FEATURE: Belper rail project ‘should have been delivered a long time ago’

NBENBE100726d1, Belper train station
NBENBE100726d1, Belper train station

Politicians, community groups and business chambers are all calling for the Government to deliver on the electrification of the Midland Mainline, so that towns including Belper can benefit.

The £500m project to electrify the route, which includes Belper, was ‘paused’ by the Government last month due to rising costs.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said Network Rail’s (NR) five-year revamp was being reset as it was “costing more and taking longer”.

However, pressure is now being put on the Government to reverse the decision after Mr McLoughlin revealed he only found out in June about the extent of issues surrounding the project.

Mr McLoughlin said: “I don’t acknowledge that there were problems emerging on the Midland mainline.

“In the very early stages of any scheme there will be a fall-behind.

The Government must now clarify exactly when it will be delivered.

“I’ve always tried to be very open about all these problems.”

In terms of the impact the project would have on Belper, the town’s civic forum recently held a meeting with NR representatives prior to the announcement to halt the project.

Roger Shelley, of the Civic Forum, told the Belper News at the time: “They told us that work could start as early as the end of next year, but the timescale was perhaps a little bit optimistic.

“They said a public workshop is planned for next year.

“Obviously a lot of the structures and architectures surrounding that area are highly significant so there was always going to have to be plenty of consultation.”

MP for Mid-Derbyshire, Pauline Latham, has said that the electrification should have been delivered “a long time ago” to towns such as Belper.

However, she has said that Network Rail must show they can manage the project correctly before it is handed back over.

She said: “Successive governments have failed to properly invest in our railways.

“We are talking about improvements that should have happened a long time ago.

“Patrick McLoughlin has had to step in and take action on Network Rail who were under-performing.

“In the meantime better services on the Midland Mainline can be delivered through speed improvements.

“I am confident the electrification programme will go ahead, but Network Rail need to show they can deliver the project before we hand it back over to them.”

Chris Hobson, Director of Policy at East Midlands Chamber, says the Government must clarify exactly when the project will be delivered.

He said: “The Chamber is extremely disappointed and frustrated that the electrification of the Midland Mainline will not go ahead as planned, and that this key project isn’t being given the prioritisation that the success of the region demands.

“The Transport Secretary, whose constituency is in the East Midlands, has said however that the project is still part of his plans.

“The Government must now clarify exactly when it will be delivered.

“The evidence in favour of upgrading this route is compelling.

“It will significantly reduce travel times between the East Midlands and London, unlocking potential economic benefits of around £200m for the region.

“For the past two decades, there has been huge investment in other routes, yet the Midland Mainline has been starved of investment, in spite of the fact that the route connects to London one of the fastest-growing areas in England, which has generated much of the economic growth needed to drive the UK’s economy away from recession and created more jobs than any other region.”

David George, chair of Transition Belper, wants the project to be fast-tracked ‘as soon as possible’ but says that there are much wider issues to consider with regards to electrification.

He said: “Transition Belper would like to see the electrification of our transport systems including railways, buses, lorries and cars as soon as possible but this must be accompanied by the de-carbonisation of electricity generation to have an effect.

“The world is at a tipping point and very soon there will be no going back on the sequence of events that will lead to catastrophic climate change.

“Any delays in moving to a low carbon economy could hasten the disaster we are trying to avoid.”

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