Nationally-significant infrastructure projects require a DCO before they can be built. As part of the process, the Planning Inspectorate is required to hold the examination, which takes around six months.
The DCO application to reopen the Portishead line is part of the MetroWest Phase 1 scheme, a West of England Combined Authority and North Somerset Council project delivered in partnership with Network Rail. The project was accepted by the Planning Inspectorate in December 2019.
The scheme involves reopening over 5km of railway which will be added to the national network, the construction of two new stations at Portishead and Pill and works to upgrade 9km of freight only railway. This will enable an hourly passenger train service on a reopened Portishead Line, while maintaining the current freight train operation to and from Royal Portbury Dock.
In addition, the wider Phase 1 proposals (not part of the examination), will bring significant train service improvements to two other railway lines – the Severn Beach Line and the Westbury to Bristol Line – and will deliver train service upgrades for 16 existing stations.
During the examination, the inspectors will look in detail at the DCO application which seeks powers to build and operate the disused section of railway from Portishead to Pill, minor works to the existing freight railway through the Avon Gorge and for the compulsory acquisition of land needed for the railway to reopen.
The 46-page letter received from the Planning Inspectorate (known as a Rule 6 letter) confirms the appointment of the panel of inspectors who will be undertaking the examination, the date of the first meetings, and timescales for the six month process. The process begins with a preliminary meeting which is being held online because of Covid-19 restrictions and will be in two parts on Tuesday 6 October and Monday 19 October.
After these meetings, the formal examination process begins, with an open floor hearing on the evening of Monday 19 October when interested parties can give the panel their views on the project.
West of England Mayor, Tim Bowles said: “We are making major investments in our public transport network to improve rail services right across the West of England, including the reopening of the Portishead and Henbury lines, new stations and more frequent services to Bath, Westbury, Yate and Gloucester.
“I welcome the start of the examination process for the reopening of the Portishead Line that will take us a step closer to connecting more local people to jobs, education and leisure opportunities across the region. Creating more sustainable travel options will help cut congestion, improve air quality and make our area an even more attractive place for people to live, work and play.”
The Leader of North Somerset Council Cllr Don Davies said the council was delighted that the public examination process was about to begin.
“This is a hugely complex scheme that has to go through many stages in order to progress. The start of the examination process is one of those key milestones, and we anticipate it will be a very intense six months for the project.
“The Portishead line is a key priority scheme putting jobs and infrastructure into the heart of our economic growth strategy. Despite all of the current challenges we are pressing on with a nationally significant project that will deliver wide ranging environmental and economic benefits to our region, and all aspects need to be considered by the Planning Inspectorate.
“Once completed, MetroWest Phase 1 will connect an additional 50,000 residents directly to the national rail network and improve the level of service for a further 180,000 residents on the Severn Beach and Westbury corridors.”
The upgrade for the Severn Beach and Westbury lines are set to see improved train services start in 2021 with the Portishead line re-opening in 2024.
More information about the DCO examination process can be found at the Planning Inspectorate’s webpage: https://infrastructure.planninginspectorate.gov.uk/projects/south-west/portishead-branch-line-metrowest-phase-1/
Benefits of the wider MetroWest scheme include:
- 181,000 fewer car trips in the opening year, increasing to 278,000 fewer car trips a year by 2036
- A reduction of 7.5 million car kilometres in the opening year
- 958,980 passenger trips by rail in the opening year increasing to 1,295,103 passenger trips by 2036
- Bringing more than 50,000 people within the immediate catchment of the two new stations at Portishead and Pill
- Providing better access to employment and educational opportunities
- Upgrading the existing train service at 16 stations across three rail corridors, directly benefiting 180,000 people within a 1km catchment
- Creating 514 new direct permanent jobs and temporary jobs during construction
- Providing £3 of quantified benefits for every £1 invested to deliver the scheme, putting the scheme in the high value for money category
- Enhancing the regional economy by £264m in the first ten years