Funding and inflation behind concerns over Portishead rail project

Abandoned Portishead rail line.

Abandoned Portishead rail line. - Credit: Barry Cash

Future plans to reopen the Portishead railway line remain uncertain as questions are raised over funding and inflation.

The railway line, which closed to passengers six decades ago, was due to reopen in 2024 as part of a multi-million pound scheme to improve public transport in the region.

But delays due to environmental issues and skyrocketing inflation have caused concerns over its costs.

The government is “very nervous” about environmental issues surrounding the reopening, and is considering putting more money forward to get the project underway, according to Dan Norris, the metro mayor of the West of England.

Little can happen until that extra government funding comes, he told a scrutiny committee at the West of England combined authority on June 27.

Similar schemes have been dropped due to inflation, which reduces how much the government can get for its money.

He said: “The government is contemplating giving additional funding to get us over the line, but they’re requiring some money from North Somerset and the combined authority as well. I’m not actually certain that I’ve got that money, but I’m very keen to find what I can.

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“There has been a delay. I think the issue has been the government is concerned and very anxious about a judicial review, very nervous. There are issues on environmental grounds—I think those fears are groundless—but it has caused delay, and with rampant inflation, that reduces the purchasing power of the money that was previously agreed.”

Portishead has grown rapidly in recent years and suffers from serious congestion on local roads.

The town’s passenger station closed in 1964 as part of the Beeching cuts, and was due to reopen in December 2024 as part of the major MetroWest project. It’s unclear exactly what environmental issues are causing the delays.

The MetroWest project, part of the West of England combined authority, will also include a new train station at Pill, and train services upgraded on the Severn Beach line and between Bath Spa and Bristol Temple Meads.

Mr Norris added: “Where we’re at now is we’re waiting for the government to come up with that money, and then I will do what I can. The reality of inflation is going to be that they’re going to cut some schemes. But I don’t think they’re contemplating that for the Portishead line.

“I do get people sometimes say to me they’re concerned this investment, strictly outside the combined authority area, is going to cost significant sums of money, which is true. But my view is that actually they’re quite a lot of jobs in North Somerset that Bristol could benefit from. So it’s in Bristol’s interests too.

“I’m very much behind it, but it depends how much it costs. We’re prepared to find what we reasonably can. But we’re now waiting to see if the government will put in what they said they would.

"It’s so hard to know, but it’s probably okay, probably. Until that money comes from the government, there’s no movement.”