Portishead rail delays 'will cost millions'

Abandoned Portishead rail line.

Abandoned Portishead rail line. - Credit: Barry Cash

More delays to reopening the railway line to Portishead will cost millions and may be more than the project can bear. 

A decision had been expected in October but the Secretary of State said it may not be announced until April amid fears it will be opposed by environmentalists. 

Councillor Steve Bridger said the longest North Somerset Council could wait was three months. 

A development consent order for the £116million scheme seeks consent to start work on reopening the defunct section of the line from Portishead and to compulsorily acquire land.

Councillor Bridger told his executive colleagues: “Delays beyond January 14 will result in key ecology windows being missed, with a net programme impact of at least 12 months, and an additional cost impact of many millions of pounds, which would be hard for the project to bear.” 

“While we have made continued attempts to engage with the Department for Transport on different levels, no clear indication has been given when the decision will be determined. 

“The position is therefore precarious.” 

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North Somerset MP Liam Fox raised the issue in the House of Commons last month.

“Let us be very clear: we are not talking about HS2,” he said. 

“We are not talking about major infrastructure or billions of pounds from the public purse. We are not talking about massive environmental impact or huge public dissent about the route. 

“We are, as I have repeatedly said, seeking only around 1.3 miles of additional track. 

“Although that is only a tiny fraction of the extra railway lines that are currently being planned, it has proved a gargantuan challenge to get through the bureaucracy required to provide a growing and affluent town with improved public transport.” 

Transport secretary Andrew Stephenson said one of the impacts that needed to be understood was on the Avon gorge woodlands special area of conservation, which is home to a number of rare species of plants including the Bristol whitebeam. 

Dr Fox said that was a “red herring” as the railway already runs through the gorge to get to Royal Portbury Dock. 

He said people find it “hard to swallow” that projects like HS2 can tunnel under the Cotswolds but the Portishead project has been blighted by delays because there is some overgrowth on a line that last ran in the 1960s. 

Work on the line had been expected to start in April, with the first train running in 2024, although the timeline was pushed back by Covid-19.