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Cambridgeshire Mayor James Palmer wants county to be ‘Network Rail free zone’ to get projects like Wisbech station done quickly

James Palmer, Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough wants to make county 'Network Rail free zone' so projects like Wisbech station can be delivered more quickly and cheaply.
James Palmer, Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough wants to make county 'Network Rail free zone' so projects like Wisbech station can be delivered more quickly and cheaply.

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Mayor James Palmer says it’s time to look beyond Network Rail to deliver essential infrastructure such as Wisbech railway station.

Mayor Palmer believes Cambridgeshire and Peterborough needs to aspire to become a ‘Network Rail-free zone’ when it comes to delivering much needed new rail infrastructure.

Acutely aware of the need for rail improvements in order develop new housing and the economy, Mayor Palmer said he has lost patience with Network Rail’s lack of urgency on key projects for the county.

Alongside his aspiration for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough to become a ‘Network Rail-free zone’ the Mayor is advancing plans to deliver rail infrastructure in a different way.

Projects that the Mayor wants to fast-track include Wisbech station to help provide better links from the north to the south of the county, Cambridge South railway station to help serve the growing biomedical campus, and the reopening Soham station.

Mayor Palmer has described Network Rail as a “bureaucratic behemoth” and “extraordinarily inefficient”, which is “crippling the economic potential of our regions and contributing to the housing crisis”.

The Mayor is exploring other ways to deliver these essential rail projects, including via private sector investment, to take them out of the hands of Network Rail. The independent Hansford Review, published in Summer 2017, found that third party investment into the UK’s rail network would help deliver better outcomes for customers and provide better value for money.

Next month Mayor Palmer is meeting with Transport Minister Jo Johnson to discuss his plans to circumvent Network Rail on these key pieces of infrastructure.

He said: “If my experiences in Cambridgeshire are anything to go by, it is quite clear we cannot rely on Network Rail to deliver rail infrastructure on time and at a price that offers value for money for the taxpayer.

“Network Rail has failed this county for too long with its glacial progress on self-evidently and urgently needed rail upgrades like the new Cambridge South railway station and a reopened Soham station.

“The Combined Authority approach is all about fresh thinking on how local government delivers for its citizens. I ran out of patience with Network Rail some time ago, and if we want to get these improvements delivered, it’s clear I need to take these projects into my own hands.

“If it means that Cambridgeshire and Peterborough needs to become a Network Rail-free zone when it comes to new infrastructure, then that is what should happen.”

Mayor Palmer has written a piece on the Conservative Home website, where he comments at length about how Network Rail is failing, and that its monopoly position means that it is not delivering for the tax payer.

He has already publicly described his dismay at Network Rail’s quoted cost of the Cambridge South rail station, at over £200 million, comparing it with the reported cost of the new arrivals terminal at London Stanstead Airport of just £100 million.

As well as the cost, the delay in Network Rail bringing forward these schemes means that vital housing developments are being delayed. Mayor Palmer has already said that housing promises can’t be delivered without the necessary infrastructure. As the Combined Authority plays a strategic role on housing and transport, Mayor Palmer is advancing plans to speed up the process on rail to unlock the necessary new homes developments.

The economic potential of Cambridgeshire is already being held back, with, for example, the Cambridge South station vital to maintaining Cambridge’s position as number one in Europe for life sciences, as well as helping to realise its ambition to become number one in the world.

And stations at Wisbech and Soham, for example, would also help with the Mayor’s ambition to rebalance the economy of the county, spreading investment and allowing workers to move around the area more easily.

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