East-West Rail Aylesbury link 'still on the table' says government minister
But the government has warned that 'a strong economic case' will have to be made for things to proceed.
The Transport Minister Chris Heaton-Harris has told Aylesbury's MP he “has kept the door open as far as possible” for the Aylesbury spur of East-West Rail, but that a stronger economic case needs to be made for the link to go ahead.
MP for Aylesbury Rob Butler had secured an Adjournment Debate in the House of Commons after the Aylesbury spur - which would provide Winslow residents with a link for onward travel to London - was left out of the funding announcement for the next phase of the line.
Speaking in Parliament on Monday night, Mr Butler said: “I submit that it is absolutely right and reasonable for my constituents to say to the government that if we must have all the disruption of HS2 and if we must endure new housing construction, then the least consolation would be to give us the railway that we do want, and indeed thought that we were going to get. It has support from residents, with a petition still collecting signatures. It is championed by Buckinghamshire Council, which has itself contributed millions of pounds to funding the scheme’s development.
"It is backed by Buckinghamshire’s local enterprise partnership and by Bucks Business First. The station is there, most of the track is there, and the passengers are poised.”
MP for Buckingham Greg Smith added that "the Aylesbury spur is vital as it adds a level of connectivity to Buckinghamshire that is truly game changing.
"A massive part of the appeal of East West Rail to my constituents in the first place was not just connecting, via a new station in Winslow, Bicester to Bletchley, but having that vital link with the Chiltern line in the town of Aylesbury and access to the key services and attractions in around that town, not least Stoke Mandeville Hospital.
"The spur is the key to unlocking the full potential of this east-west connection, which is why, despite those disruptive and frustrating impacts building East West Rail has caused... I truly welcome the boost it will bring to the north of Buckinghamshire.
"It will reduce congestion and pollution, create new job opportunities and allow for that decisive step towards enhancing economic prosperity, particularly for our rural communities.
"My constituents need to know that their patience will be worth it and that they will reap the full benefits of restoring this vital link between some of the fastest-growing areas of the south-east. We have waited long enough. We really need the Aylesbury spur to be delivered."
The minister replied that Mr Butler had “made a compelling case for the spur and has done well to secure this debate on transport in his constituency".
But the minister revealed that the design, development and delivery of East West Rail has changed, and instead of delivering East West Rail in sections— Western and Central —it will
now be delivered in “connection stages”.
He said: “I understand my Hon Friend’s concerns and those of his constituents that the proposed spur connecting Aylesbury and Milton Keynes, which previously formed part of the Western section, is not included as part of the three main connection stages.
"That does not mean that the Aylesbury spur will not go ahead by any means, but it is important that a strong economic case can be made for proceeding with that element of the East West Rail scheme, and that a reliable rail service can be introduced without jeopardising existing services.”
The minister continued: “The Secretary of State for Transport and I have instructed our officials in the department to include financial provision for the design and delivery of the Aylesbury spur as part of the comprehensive spending review that will take place later this year.
"As my Hon Friend will appreciate, there will be many competing demands from a wide variety of schemes as part of that process, and boosting the available funding through local contributions will make the Aylesbury spur an even more attractive proposition. As Rail Minister, I will continue to ensure that East West Rail works hard with its stakeholders to drive down costs and make the strongest possible case for the scheme to be delivered in full.”
Afterwards, Mr Butler commented: “As I said in the debate, the original business case for Phase 2 of East West Rail including Aylesbury is stronger than the business case for HS2. It is extremely disappointing that the government has now shifted the goalposts and left us off the map, imposing a new set of hurdles before we can secure funding. I will continue to fight locally and nationally to convince ministers that Aylesbury needs and deserves to be an integral part of the new Great British Rail network”.