Cost overrun warning as Beaulieu station project moves to design stage

Design and planning for a new railway station in Chelmsford can start after Essex County Council agreed to move the new project forward to the key stage.

The county council’s cabinet has now authorised officers to enter into the Development Services Agreement (DSA) with Network Rail for GRIP stage 5 to enable the Beaulieu Park Railway Station Project to move to the full design stage which includes cost and time estimates.

But the authority has said it will now watch costs carefully given there are certain costs that the county council is obliged to underwrite.

As of November 16, 2021, £7million has been spent on the Beaulieu Park Station and £2m of the total £124m Housing Infrastructure Funding (HIF) from Homes England has been drawn down.

A £20.5m contribution from Countryside Zest – the Beaulieu Park developers – and a £12m contribution from the South East Local Enterprise Partnership makes up the remainder of the funding.

The indicative GRIP stage 5 has been estimated at £9.4m.

The county council has admitted to the risk from “unfunded cost escalation” given it will have to bear the financial liability associated with any increase in cost.

The project had been in danger of being abandoned before costs estimated at around £171m at the beginning of the year were reduced to the current £155.4m – largely by scrapping plans for a multi-storey car park at the station.

The county council also has responsibility to underwrite any operating deficit incurred with respect to the station. This risk is now considered lower as numbers for public transport across the board show some recovery as people return to places of work, especially London.

At worst case, according to the modelling, with a 60 per cent passenger reduction due to COVID, the station deficit would be around £500k in the first year of opening only.

Councillor Lesley Wagland, cabinet member for economic renewal, infrastructure and planning at Essex County Council, said: “There will be particular attention paid to this contract in terms of its management so we can ensure we do properly mitigate the risks and there will be opportunity for scrutiny to help us with that.”

Beaulieu’s new station will be the first new station on the Great Eastern main line (GEML) for more than 100 years.

In the first year of opening – planned for 2026 – it is expected to welcome more than two million passengers while supporting 3,600 new homes and 40,000 square metres of business park area to the north east of Chelmsford.

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter