The Railways Minister, Theresa Villiers MP, today became the fifth Government Minister to recognise the importance of the re-doubling of the Swindon-Kemble Line, but a decision has been put on hold until the Comprehensive Spending Review on the 20th October.
The Minister’s comments came at a meeting following a request from Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP (The Cotswolds) who has spearheaded the campaign to get the line re-doubled. The meeting was also attended by Neil Carmichael MP (Stroud), Richard Graham MP (Gloucester) and Martin Horwood MP (Cheltenham), to demonstrate a united front as the benefits of the improvement will be felt by residents across Gloucestershire.
During the course of the meeting, Ms Villiers acknowledged that the scheme would not only ensure a regular service and put Gloucestershire well within the magic figure of being two hours from the Capital, but could also serve as an important diversionary route, in particular during electrification work on the Great Western Main Line, and on any occasion where the Severn Tunnel is closed. Recognition was also given of the fact that as the feasibility study has been concluded and resources could be easily transferred from the North Cotswolds line, where similar work is taking place, that there is a clear window of opportunity for the improvements to be made.
However, despite this the Minister expressed her concern that the £45m the Labour Government had provided to the South West Regional Funding Allocation for the scheme was not actually available, and as such the shortfall in funding was actually far larger than the £4.8m, claimed by Ministers during the last Government. With the Comprehensive Spending Review due later in the year, and with Ms Villiers expecting large cuts to her Departments budget, she was unable to make any commitments to funding at this stage.
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Clifton-Brown said “This is obviously not the immediate good news we were hoping for, but equally the campaign is not over and I think we have been able to make an excellent case to the Minister, and put the scheme to the forefront of her thinking when decisions are made in the Autumn. During the election I was accused by some of being a scaremonger by saying that the re-doubling was not a done deal, but at the time I knew, as we all did, that the Labour Government had nearly bankrupted the country.”
However, Gloucestershire’s MPs are committed to continuing the campaign to ensure the improvement work is made.
Neil Carmichael (Stroud) added “The case for redoubling the line is overwhelming, and the Minister of State, Theresa Villiers MP, noted the advantages in terms of business, tourism and protection of the environment. She also recognised that a back to back project with the nearby Cotswolds line would have significant cost savings. The campaign for the redoubling of the Swindon to Kemble line must continue but of course we must recognise the challenges in public expenditure will mean that our case must be proved to be absolutely watertight. I will continue to work with all of my Gloucestershire colleagues to secure funding for this project”
Source: Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP (The Cotswolds)