'Red herrings' need to be ignored for Portishead Railway scheme

Leader of North Somerset Council, Cllr Don Davies, said he is delighted parts of the Portishead line were set to be recycled.

North Somerset's MP and council have both blasted 'red herrings' for slowing progress with plans to reinstate the Portishead and Pill railway lines. - Credit: North Somerset Council

Pressure continues to mount on Government ministers after a series of 'red herrings' have been dismissed as reasons for delaying Portishead and Pill railway line plans.

Both North Somerset's MP and council leader were left frustrated by the Minister of Transport's statement issued in a House of Commons debate which claimed the delay was partly due to the need to clear overgrowth from the Portishead Railway line, which was closed in the 1960s, as well as care to avoid destroying a number of rare species of plants further along the line.

Abandoned Portishead rail line.

Sections of the Portishead railway line would need to be cleared before operations began. - Credit: Barry Cash

Council leader Don Davies told the Times: "It seems to be one of the few times myself and Dr Fox have agreed during these proceedings.

"During his debate, Liam Fox laid bare the situation, which is heading for a cliff edge, to the Minister.

"And that is; if a decision is not made by January then we will have to re-do a lot of ecology and push back our schedule at a sizeable cost.

"It is incredibly frustrating that these red herrings are being presented - we have known about the rare species of plants mentioned for decades and made our proposals with this in mind."

Elsewhere, Portishead and Pill's Extinction Rebellion group has dismissed claims it would challenge the decision to reinstate a rail line in the two towns.

It had been previously believed that the group, or one's similar, would seek a judicial review into the Development Consent Order put forward by North Somerset Council as phase one of the wider MetroWest scheme.

North Somerset MP, Dr Liam Fox told the House of Commons that the plans have the support of local environmental groups and hope this will not slow the process to grant the DCO after a decision was delayed due to 'environmental reasons'.

Dr Fox said: "When I requested further information from Ministers, I was informed that there was a fear that a judicial review might be granted to environmental groups opposed to the reopening of the line. I will return to that point later on.

Most Read

"I also understand the fear that those groups that have been involved in lawbreaking in recent times, such as Extinction Rebellion and Insulate Britain, might seek such a review on the Portishead line, but I have to tell my hon friend the Minister that our local scheme has the full support of all our mainstream environmental groups, which can fully see the advantage of taking traffic off our congested roads and on to the railways."

An XR protest banner in Portishead.

An XR protest banner in Portishead. - Credit: XR Portishead and Pill

In a statement given to the Times, Extinction Rebellion Portishead and Pill confirmed they do not object to the MetroWest scheme involving both the towns.

It read: "The members of Portishead, Pill, and Clevedon XR groups are in favour of a railway line running between Portishead and Bristol.

"This development would not only remove commuter traffic from our congested roads but also encourage and enable passengers wishing to travel beyond Bristol to choose rail as their preferred mode of transport.

"We were most surprised and angry to hear that Liam Fox had named XR as an environmental group likely to oppose the reopening of the line."

Doubts have also been cast on the £116million project by a campaign to replace the railway scheme with one fit for a bus.

The Portishead Busway Campaign has cited the government's ambition to phase out diesel trains by 2040 - stating that this means two tunnels on the Portishead-Bristol rail line would have to be modified to enable electrification.

North Somerset Council leader, Don Davies

Cllr Davies does not believe electrification is a concern for the MetroWest scheme. - Credit: NSC

The council's leader has dismissed this claim, calling it a 'fairytale'.

He said: "The busway campaign seems to be pulling ideas from Brother's Grimm fairytales and offering more red herrings.

"If we did accommodate an overhead electrical line then it would mean trains could not join with services past Bath, as it does not have the same line.

"However, technology such as a third rail means that we can easily meet the government's demands."

A third rail, also known as a live rail, electric rail or conductor rail, is a method of providing electric power to a railway locomotive or train.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter