Marvin Rees has revealed his hopes for a £2.5 billion underground rail network as the answer to Bristol’s transport problems.
The mayor says there is no reason why the city shouldn’t aspire to have a world class system and has commissioned a £50,000 pre-feasibility to get the ball rolling on what he is calling a ‘three-dimensional solution’.
Critics have slammed the ‘pie in the sky’ proposal as a waste of yet more public money against a backdrop of failed schemes and escalating costs of the ongoing MetroBus works.
The leader of Bristol’s Conservative group, Mark Weston, was damning about what he called a “fantastical project”, arguing that it has “about as much chance of seeing the light of day as a space port at Filton”.
But Rees says the whole point is that Bristol needs to think big to solve its transport problems and argues that if the numbers stack up, there is no reason why private firms would not invest the majority of the required £2bn.
“We know we need a mass transport system for the city – it’s one of the things that holds Bristol back, particularly in terms of our city brand,” he told Bristol24/7.
“Looking at this underground is one of the options we want to consider. The solution to Bristol transport cannot just be one project here and one project there – that’s a piecemeal approach and we need to think about the transport system as a whole.”
The mayor said the new system would incorporate under and over ground rail lines, connecting central Bristol to the north and out to the airport, as well as linking with pedestrian and cycle routes and the yet-to-be-completed MetroBus.
He also said he will also be seeking to work with West of England Combined Authority (WECA) colleagues as the entire region could benefit from the transport scheme.
Some low level work has already been carried out on the ambitious project that has been about 10 months in the making and a company has now been commissioned to do a pre-feasibility study, paid for out of the city’s transport budget.
Rees continued: “I understand people’s reservations, we have had a lot of schemes that have not worked in the past. I’m looking to Bristol’s future and I’m aspirational for Bristol. I do not know why Bristol would not have a world class transport system. I do not find it acceptable that we could not look at this as an option.
“One of the points made to me by Highways England was ‘you cannot solve Bristol transport problems on the roads alone, you need to go up or down’. Bristol is a beautiful city – I do not see why we would put something up in the air.
“It’s a big aim, but we have got to put some aims on the table and if we are not prepared to explore the possibility, then we are not going to do anything.”
He added that similar schemes have proved possible in other cities and pledged to take an entirely evidence-based approach in deciding whether or not to proceed with something that he believes could be quite special for the city.
But the Conservative group has branded the proposal “madness” and condemned what it sees as a waste of £50,000 in taxpayers’ money.
“Unfortunately, at a time when we should be looking to deliver realistic and achievable capital projects, this is a case of frittering resources away on absolute pie in the sky thinking,” said Weston, a councillor for Henbury and Brentry.
“The building costs of a modest network are huge (£2.5 billion) and, as has already been shown in respect of the three MetroBus routes, likely to rise steeply over time.
“As a great supporter of rail, I would love for us to get a subway but, back in the real world, I cannot see the neighbouring authorities agreeing to plough so much of their transport budget into solving Bristol’s congestion problems.
“Sadly despite what some politicians say – there really is no magic money tree that can be shaken to pay for these grandiose schemes.”
Main photo courtesy of TFL