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Mayor urges new Transport team to revoke Ely North ‘mistake’

30 October 2019

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Transport ministers have been warned by Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough James Palmer to rethink the decision to let improving North Ely junction slip down the Government’s priorities – or risk setting back work on several major infrastructure projects in the region.

Writing to Transport Minister Chris Heaton-Harris, Mayor Palmer expressed ‘grave concern’ that the Department for Transport decision to cap spending and thereby drop Ely North down the agenda - made by Theresa May’s administration - threatens growth and the development of passenger and freight travel across the region.

But the Transport Minister replied that while his department appreciated the problem and the work of the Mayoral Combined Authority to address it, “there is no quick or easy solution to unlocking all of the constraints in the area” and that any full programme of works would require “significant funding” and run into the DfT’s next funding period.

However, he thanked Mayor Palmer for the work the Combined Authority is doing with partners to build a robust business case for enhancing Ely North -  and said his Department would work with them to ‘maximise the likelihood of a positive funding decision’ in Spring 2020.

Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough James Palmer said:

“I’ve said that decision to drop Ely North down the Department’s to-do list was a mistake and I urged the new Transport team to reconsider it. It is a massive let-down for this region to be passed over for quicker and easier fixes elsewhere. This bottleneck savagely restricts growth here and just putting off the work won’t get it done.  I won’t give up pressing for urgent action on this, but it is heartening that the minister responds positively to my call for funding. The blockage at Ely is the result of chronic underinvestment over about seven decades and it should go up the list, not down. At the very least it must be raised to current network standards, not left behind further. The track desperately needs renewing, signalling is still done by men pulling levers in the signal boxes, and the line is slowed by numerous road crossings, 37 between Peterborough and Ely alone.”  

Key developments including the desperately-needed new stations at Cambridge South, Wisbech and Soham, as well as speedier and more frequent Fenland services will all benefit hugely if the Ely North junction is brought up to scratch.

The busy junction sees five railway lines converge to connect Norwich and King's Lynn to Cambridge, Cambridge to London and Ipswich to the Midlands. The bottleneck serves both passenger and freight lines, with trains having to slow down and to wait for others to pass, causing congestion. As well as making Cambridge South more deliverable, the junction is pivotal for  improvements to rail services across East Anglia, including the reopening of the Wisbech line, increased services between King’s Lynn and London, as well as from Norwich to Cambridge.

Working on plans with the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, the Mayoral Combined Authority has already committed £8.5 million to identify options for increasing flow through the Ely bottleneck, and the Mayor says delay at government level threatens to junk hard work already done locally.

“Ely North is a big, complicated challenge, and not a quick win,” added Mayor Palmer.

“But the rewards and benefits of tackling it are huge. There is massive potential for growth in this area and beyond. The speed and capacity of trains is seriously constrained, on routes that connect our regional centres like King’s Lynn, Norwich, Ipswich, Felixstowe and Peterborough. Ely North is the key to opening up the ports of the  Eastern region, unblocking growth potential in Fenland, and  unlocking service improvements, including more frequent trains to London, from Peterborough to Cambridge, and half-hourly trains between King’s Lynn and Cambridge.”