Work on Bristol’s mass transit system including underground railway ‘should begin by end of decade’

Marvin Rees has laid out how the Bristol region’s long-awaited mass transit system will start to take shape by the end of the decade.

The city mayor says diggers should move in to begin work by 2029/30 on schemes involving both overground and underground routes.

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He spoke at a city council cabinet meeting where members formally accepted Bristol’s allocation of £191million for public transport projects from the Government’s City Regions Sustainable Transport Settlement (CRSTS) over the next five years to the West of England Combined Authority (Weca).

They also approved a 20 per cent local contribution from Bristol City Council of £38.2million which is required to unlock the money, such as £48million for the M32 strategic corridor, including an as-yet unidentified location for a park and ride, at the meeting on Tuesday, April 5.

Improvements to public transport routes, the Long Ashton Metrobus service and Bristol to Hengrove Metrobus line, as well as making railway stations more accessible and delivering two ‘liveable neighbourhood’ pilot schemes, are promised but will all need business cases signed off by Weca.

Mr Rees said: “There has been some political gaming, political naysaying about mass transit but it’s a very straightforward process.

“You put the best on the table, you clearly set out what the best is for Bristol as a city with the greater Bristol area with 1.2million-and-rising people, which is predictable, segregated, decarbonised transport that gets people around the city, connects them to each other and to opportunity and supports us economically and culturally.

“You look at the possible ways of delivering that solution for the city. Then, having put all those solutions on the table, you begin to work through a process which will test a whole bunch of questions around those solutions you’re putting forward – overground, underground, whatever they are.

Bristol mayor Marvin Rees at Bristol City Council cabinet on Tuesday, April 5.

“It will look at routes, the technology available, costs, the technical ability to go overground, underground, it will look at the scale of investment needed, the return on that investment, passenger numbers, a whole range of criteria.

“And as you go through that process it will show up some solutions as viable and some as less viable and you begin to knock them out, so you begin to hone in on those options that are possible, you put a yes or no.”

Mr Rees said that until that process was done, “all options are possible until they are ruled out”.

“So it’s a perfectly reasonable approach to say ‘What’s the best for Bristol? Let’s test all those solutions until they can’t be tested any more and find out what’s left on the table’, and that’s the process we’re going through,” the Labour mayor said.

“It was so disheartening at the last full council meeting to hear people saying it can’t be done, even before we’ve tested whether or not it can be done. It’s so lacking in ambition for the city.

“So this is the process we need to go through. We’ve been constantly working on this.”

He was referring to a debate on a Green motion on March 15 calling on Weca to fully examine alternatives to an underground, such as trolley cars and trams, which received unanimous approval after Labour said that was already happening.

Everyone agreed a tube network was ““not the be all and end all” for the region’s mass transit system, while councillors from other opposition groups branded the idea of an underground “fanciful” and “pie in the sky”.

A clearly exasperated Mr Rees said the debate should be “bottled” because of all the negativity. Speaking at cabinet on Tuesday, he said the potential timeline for mass transit depended on levels of political support and focus across the region, and that early consultation on 19 different options for mass transit had already been delayed but should go out soon.

The mayor said: “Those documents are fine as far as we are concerned but they’re waiting to go public.

“If we get a move on with that, by September we can start the work on the strategic outline business case – £7million has been allocated to that.

“If we can move on that, by mid-2023 we will commission the outline business case, and there is £10million allocated in the combined authority to fund that, but if we can get as much political agreement as possible then that process will move all the quicker.

“By 2024/25 we could be in receipt of the outline business case, but the speed of that will also depend on how successful the strategic outline business case is in narrowing down the options.

“At the moment we have 19 options available to us. If you keep 15 options on the table then obviously the process is smaller, but if that strategic outline business case is quicker in knocking out options that are not viable then we will have a smaller number of schemes and we will be moving quicker, which is what we would advocate for.

“Then by 2026/27 we can be with the full business case – again that depends on how successful the previous processes are – and then by 2029/30 we could be digging holes, have shovels in the ground for the mass transit system.”

He said all this work should have happened years ago but that future city leaders should reap the benefits of building on it and delivering the public transport system needed.