Bristol will never have a London Underground-style system, says the region’s mayor

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‘I don’t think that’s viable for us at all’

Bristol will never have a London Underground-style system, West of England mayor Dan Norris says.

The metro mayor, who is in charge of the region’s strategic transport, says such a network is “not viable” here and that he will not write any “blank cheques”.

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His comments, on The Cable’s Bristol Unpacked podcast, come just days after the West of England Combined Authority (Weca) committee, which he chairs,agreed “tunnels may well be needed” beneath places like Temple Meads and Gloucester Road for the proposed mass transit system.

Unveiling the latest vision for local public transport last year, Bristol mayor Marvin Rees said it would not necessarily mirror the London tube and could use technology such as driverless pods or trams, while his 2021 election manifesto pledged it would be “in the form of an underground and overground”.

Asked by podcast host Neil Maggs on Thursday, February 3, if an underground was unrealistic, Mr Norris said: “It depends what people mean by ‘underground’.

Map showing the proposed underground routes in orange released by Bristol City Council last yearMap showing the proposed underground routes in orange released by Bristol City Council last year
Map showing the proposed underground routes in orange released by Bristol City Council last year

“What I think people are talking about is like an underground that they have in London, and I don’t think that’s viable for us at all.

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“I don’t think we will have a London Underground system for the West of England.

“It’s really hard to achieve because of the huge amounts of money it requires.

“It’s much more likely we’ll have a transport system like they have in other parts of our country based on trams and other forms of transport including cycling and walking and buses.

“If it turns out, as we look at each stage of the plan for public transport, that we can have something that is along those lines then make the case and I could be persuaded.

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“But what I’m not going to do is promise something I haven’t had the facts on. I’m not giving any blank cheques to anybody.”

The Labour metro mayor said that while he was proud to have secured £540million in the autumn from the Government for public transport over the next five years, to be spent primarily on buses, it was a fraction of what was required.

“It sounds like a lot but for what you need it isn’t,” he said.

“If you want a public transport system worthy of the name, you would need at least 20 times that because it takes time.

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“If I sign the contract tomorrow, it would probably be 13 years before it was delivered because these things take time to plan and build, and we’ve got to be honest.”

He said the region’s bus services had improved greatly over the last decade but were still a long way short of where they should be.

“That’s why the bulk of this £540million is to go on buses because that will have the maximum impact over the five-year period the funding is available,” Mr Norris said.

“And then I’m hoping we’re levering in lots more money for other things, which might mean some tunnels, it might mean trams, it might mean a whole range of things.

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“But what we’ve got to show is that we can use this initial half-billion pounds wisely, and buses are the quickest way to make a real difference.

“So that’s what I’m focusing on. I’m going to show the Government – if I’ve got anything to do with it – how good we are at doing that, ‘Give us more money because we’ve got other exciting plans’.”

Weca committee – comprising Mr Norris, Mr Rees and the leaders of Bath & North East Somerset and South Gloucestershire councils – agreed to bring a report pinning down costs, dates and key milestones for the ambitious mass transit system at their next meeting in April.

The full interview can be found here

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