Jeremy Hunt, Chancellor of the Exchequer, has been urged by business and transport leaders to agree to key rail improvements that are holding back trade and prosperity.
At a rail summit in Cambridge, leaders aimed to send a clear message to the government regarding the Ely Junction bottleneck, which is notorious for holding back trade. The summit saw the case argued that developments to the junction, known as the ‘Ely Solution’, would hold the key to growth across Great Britain.
Dr Nik Johnson, Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, hosted the gathering that discussed how taking action on the junction would quickly increase value throughout the country, all the way into Scotland.
With funding needed to take such action, the summit will see a letter sent to the Chancellor and Mark Harper, Transport Secretary, to drive home the value of the solution as well as helping them to consider which rail improvements should be granted funding in the future. Following the announcement of the call for action, leaders in transport, business, industry, local authority, and more are being urged to sign the letter that is available on the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority website, before it is delivered on the 14th July 2023.
The junction in question currently sits on the route that links Felixstowe, the port and new trade zone, to the rest of the country and is the UK’s most intensively used freight corridor. Due to a mixture of single-track sections, restricted speeds, level crossings and limitations to signalling, a bottleneck has been created that sees five separate lines competing for one track. These issues currently mean that Ely is seen as one of the main impediments to growth across the UK, however the aforementioned letter has outlined how improved capacity at Ely would be beneficial. This prospectus of investment includes 100,000 lorries being taken off the road every year, almost 3000 additional freight services to and from the port of Felixstowe every year, and an extra £4.89 injected into the economy for every £1 that is spent.
Should the government approve £466 million of investment into the infrastructure improvements, the summit was told that a benefit of £2.2 billion would be brought back into the UK economy. This would be due to the 2,900 extra freight services into the port every year.
Dr Nik Johnson, Mayor of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough, said:
“The public money spent on rail in many areas can yield a much better return if Ely Junction is widened to release freer, and more frequent and reliable rail traffic. The cost-benefit ratio of fixing the Ely pinch point is an incredible return of £4.89 back for every £1 spent. It’s a win-win investment with quantifiable reward far beyond the opportunity that will be felt for decades by people and communities across the country.
“Dividends will include more freight and passenger services and better connections, at least 100k fewer lorries on the road each year, a massive drop in carbon emission, improved air quality and less need to spend government money on roads, as rail freight options for imports and exports become more viable.”
“If the Government is committed to delivering UK growth and supporting international trade, it has to commit to investing in Ely junction widening and improvements.
“The problem is longstanding and any delay to delivering a solution to the Ely bottleneck will come at a heavy cost to the UK economy. Our message to the Treasury and Government is clear: Let’s work together – we all want to see good economic development for UK plc. If the Government is serious about levelling up, we must progress Ely. If we are serious about meeting net zero targets and getting thousands of HGVs off the roads across the United Kingdom, then the Government must progress Ely.
“We hope that you will now move to agree the required funding for the Ely rail improvement.”
Also discussed at the summit, was how the increased capacity at the Ely Junction would be able to bring the best out of previous government investment that has led to a new station at Soham, as well as further investment around the country to improve rail assets. The argument made was that these improvements are rendered less effective due to the Ely bottleneck. With further funding set aside for Cambridge South, East-West Rail, and Peterborough Station Quarter, these investments would also be further improved if the government were to go ahead with improvements at Ely.
Cllr Liz Leffman, interim chair of England’s Economic Heartland, added:
“Our conversations with the freight industry have only reinforced that there is significant unmet demand for increased levels of rail freight. The rail capacity improvements needed at Ely are of national significance. The scheme is an important connector for the economies of the Midlands and North and provides significant potential to relieve congestion on strategic roads while reducing emissions caused by HGV journeys which could more appropriately be made via rail.”