The Secretary of State for Transport has announced a delay of up to six months in the decision on the Portishead railway Development Consent Order. This is ‘to allow further consideration of environmental matters’. The Department for Transport has subsequently asked North Somerset District Council to provide specific details concerning the carbon budget for the proposed reopening:
The Secretary of State notes the amendments to chapter 7 of the Environmental Statement references the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth carbon budgets. However, the Secretary of State notes that it only includes an assessment against the sixth carbon budget.
Please could the Applicant provide an assessment of the impact of the scheme against the third, fourth and fifth carbon budgets, or explain why it does not think this is appropriate.
They have made this request at the end of a two-year process in which almost every detail and aspect of the scheme has been minutely examined.
Fox: No specific reason
Liam Fox, the local MP, states on his website that:
It appears that there is no specific reason for the delay on environmental grounds and, indeed, it would be possible to go ahead with the DCO (development consent order) immediately except for one potentially serious factor.
Government advisers believe that there is a strong chance that environmental activist groups might seek a judicial review over the whole project on “environmental “grounds. While this may seem absurd given the clear benefits that the railway would bring, we have seen from recent events with groups like Extension (sic) Rebellion and Insulate Britain that they are far from rational in their decision taking. It is entirely possible that they would object to any new transport project.
The six-month delay that has been announced is to allow for a full environmental impact to be undertaken to the extent that the government believes it would be able to resist any calls for a judicial review.
It is not clear why the Government’s advisers think it likely that this scheme is likely to attract the attention of activists. Its intent, after all, is to give 50,000 people access to low-carbon transport.
North Somerset leader Don Davies stated:
The response, having discussed it at length with my executive colleagues, frankly beggars belief.
Meanwhile on Dartmoor…
Meanwhile, on the edge of Dartmoor, FoSBR is delighted to see a regular seven-days-a-week train service from Exeter to Okehampton starting on 20th November 2021.
The contrast is stark.
FoSBR understands that the Portishead reopening had to go through the two-year Development Consent Order process because the 4.5 km section of line from Pill to Portishead ceased to be part of the national railway network when North Somerset council bought it. Ironically, they did this to safeguard the route and to simplify the reopening process.
The 21 km section of line from Crediton to Okehampton had also been sold; in this case to an aggregates company. Yet no DCO was required, and no-one seemed worried that environmental activists would attempt to block the scheme. The track, which skirts the northern edge of environmentally-sensitive Dartmoor National Park, was relayed over the summer of 2021 without incident. From the announcement of funding to the first train running on the new line will have taken 9 months.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said:
The work has been a successful collaboration between the DfT, Network Rail, GWR, Devon County Council, Devon and Cornwall Rail Partnership, and local campaigners and MPs.
But isn’t there a similar collaboration working to reopen the Portishead line? Why does this scheme seem to stumble every step of the way?
Stop Press: See FoSBR’s response to the Secretary of State’s request for comments on North Somerset Council’s updated Environment Statement, November 2021.
Main Image by Geof Sheppard – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41863793