Rail link plan to connect Norfolk with West Country

Plans for a new rail link that would bring East Anglia into much closer contact with business centres along a corridor to the West Country would boost both business and tourism, it is claimed.

The region's MPs and business leaders last night gave their enthusiastic backing to the scheme in the wake of a report by leading economic forecaster, Oxford Economics, which makes a strong case for the multi-million pound investment.

The East West Rail Consortium, a group of local authorities and businesses, is lobbying for government investment in the route - going from Reading in the west to Norwich and Ipswich in the east via Oxford, Milton Keynes, Bedford and Cambridge - in its 2014-19 railway programme.

The link would use existing lines east of Cambridge but other sections of the route would need the track to be ugraded and re-instated in places.

Focusing on the section from Oxford to Bedford, the Oxford Economics report states that implementing that part of the project could generate more than �38m a year for the UK economy.

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It says the scheme can address the slow-down in job creation along the transport corridor.

Neil Gibson, chairman of East-West Rail, said: 'Oxford Economics has confirmed what we have been saying to ministers and Whitehall officials: investment in East-West Rail is a great deal for the taxpayer, for business, the travelling public, and for supporting growth.'

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Great Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis said he felt the potential benefits of the link could be huge for the town.

He said: 'Following the recent announcement of the New Anglia enterprise zone, improved communications such as these could be of great economic benefit to the town's businesses and new enterprises looking to relocate to the area.

'Improved rail links will also boost Yarmouth's successful tourism industry and allow more people to commute into and out of the town with greater ease. I welcome these proposals and am supportive of all of the potential benefits which could result from this.'

South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss was equally supportive, saying: 'This project appears to have a high economic return and would bring jobs and growth. West Norfolk would have direct links to Oxford and Reading via Cambridge, avoiding the congested London area.'

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith said: 'There could be a lot of merit in the scheme. Certainly, local businesses want to see the Norwich to Cambridge line greatly improved and, in particular, that would help Norwich Research Park retain its world-class status.'

However, she said achieving a decent Norwich to London line was the overriding economic need for the city and Norfolk.

Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman said: 'I have been a long-term advocate of the innovation corridor, linking Norwich with innovation centres in the golden triangle of London, Cambridge and Oxford.

'In that context, the section of line from Norwich to Cambridge, which I have referred to as the Cinderella line, is hugely important.'

Equally supportive is Nick Bond, head of tourism at VisitNorwich, who said: 'We would welcome a decision on increased rail connectivity from Oxfordshire and Bedfordshire to Norwich, which helps support local tourism businesses and which takes in the views of local people.'

Meanwhile, Caroline Williams, CEO of Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, said: 'With the ever increasing fuel price rises, rail travel will continue to increase in importance.

'Investment in the railways makes good sense and the availability of travelling east to west by rail would save businesses time and money. In addition it would help change the perception that Norfolk is cut off from the rest of the country which inhibits the recruitment of much needed skilled people.'

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