Mid Norfolk MP’s vision of improved rail connections between Norwich and Cambridge
PUBLISHED: 19:13 07 December 2012
An improved rail line between Norwich and Cambridge would bring major boosts for investment in the two cities and opportunities for cutting edge scientific research centres to work together, political leaders said yesterday at the launch of a new manifesto for the line.
Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman was joined by county councillors Ann Steward, cabinet member for economic development and Graham Plant, cabinet member for planning and transportation to unveil plans for a new high speed rail network between the two cities bringing improved links between science and technology businesses at Norwich Research Park and the University of Cambridge, as well as providing opportunities for economic growth.
Central to this vision, incorporated in the Rail Prospectus for East Anglia, will be half-hourly train services on the Norwich to Cambridge route and improvements to tracks to enable trains to travel at speeds of up to 100mph.
Mr Freeman said he wanted better integration between public transport and the research parks, with one possibility being to include a stop for Norwich Research Park on the route and creating improved links between Wymondham station and the Hethel engineering centre for high performance engineering, such as with bus and cycle routes between the station and the centre.
The entrepreneur, who has helped establish high tech companies, said he had spoken to business chiefs in Cambridge who had never visited Norwich because the city had “traditionally been very difficult to get to,” but he wanted to change this by linking rural Norfolk with the city.
He said: “The question is this, are we going to be a rural economy or a thriving and vibrant, modern and rural economy and we will not become a modern, sustainable economy on 19th century infrastructure.”
He added: “With effective and modern rail developments linking rural Norfolk to the Cambridge and Norwich innovation clusters, we can create the conditions for Norfolk to become a hub of science, technology and innovation. My manifesto and our consultation, as part of the broader eastern rail strategy, is the next vital step in developing an innovation economy in Norfolk.”
Ms Steward said county councillors were working with local communities to encourage them to take advantage of opportunities created by the improved rail network.
She added: “Strategically, there will be opportunities for Norwich Research Park and science technology businesses to work together with their counterparts in Cambridge and it will bring more opportunities for them, but it is also about looking for long term growth around East Anglia.”
Mr Plant said: “It is about looking at the Norfolk Growth Strategy and part of that is about infrastructure strategy as well. It is the long term strategy for what Norfolk deserves.”
Andy Wood, Chairman of the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “The Norwich to Cambridge rail line is a key economic artery and is critical to growing the links between Norwich and Cambridge.
“The line has already shown significant growth since a direct Norwich to Cambridge train was introduced and businesses are keen to see the service made faster and more frequent.
“New Anglia Lep has prioritised growth in ICT and life sciences and improving this link is a key element in supporting this.”
Caroline Williams, chief executive of Norfolk Chamber, said: “The link between Norwich and Cambridge is increasingly important and I would put the full weight of the chamber behind this.”
Mr Freeman said the first stage of the vision for the Norwich to Cambridge line had been completed after the government agreed to provide £25m to double the track at the Ely North Junction bottleneck, which will increase the frequency of trains between King’s Lynn and London and Norwich and Cambridge and possibly generate £100m in economic benefits.
He added the next steps, which include improving line speeds and removing or closing full gate level crossings, could be incorporated in rail operator Network Rail’s next five year plan and should not need significant extra funding.
Another long-term goal of the manifesto was to improve rail stations on the route and Mr Freeman said he deliberately chose to launch the Norwich-Cambridge Rail Manifesto at Attleborough station because the station house, which is currently closed and in a dilapidated state, could be refurbished and reopened to provide a venue for cafes and local businesses to use.
He added the number of passengers using the line had grown from 390,000 a year 10 years ago to the current 940,000 a year and improvements to stations would encourage more people to use the route.
The manifesto forms part of the Rail Prospectus for East Anglia, created by a four county alliance of political and industry leaders and co-ordinated by New Anglia, calling for improvements to the region’s trains over the next 20 years, which have been described as “not fit for purpose.”
The prospectus calls for train journey times between Norwich and London to be reduced from the current two hours to 90 minutes, extra train capacity on East Anglian routes and improved punctuality.