New Chelmsford station could be scrapped over budget gap

A new train station for Chelmsford could be scrapped because of “ongoing and unsubstantiated budget pressure”, Essex County Council (ECC) has warned.

The problem threatens the delivery of Chelmsford’s North East Bypass which is linked to the project.

The overall cost for the Beaulieu station project was reviewed as part of the Governance for Railway Investment Projects (GRIP) Stage 3 where the various options available to complete the project should have been identified and a single option and outline design be recommended.

At this stage the business case should confirm whether or not the project is affordable. The stage reassessed the cost of the station and track works – including risk and inflation – at £171 million – a total of £14 million more than the funding available for the project.

The project is being funded through a £22 million donation from the developer Countryside Zest, £123 million from Homes England Homes Infrastructure Funding (HIF) and £12 million from South East Local Enterprise Partnership.

Contracts for GRIP Stage 4 in which the development of the chosen single option selected in stage 3 commences to create the outline design need to be signed by June.

But a report to ECC cabinet said this is not guaranteed.

It reads: “Contracts with Homes England for HIF must be in place by June 2021 which is the date for the submission of the Transport and Works Act Order (TWAO).

“DfT rules state that this can only be submitted if the project has in place all necessary finances to complete the project. It will be the contract with Homes England that provides the assurances that the project is fully financed.

“There are a number of issues that ECC and the wider project team are managing that require resolution before the agreement with Homes Beaulieu Railway Station Commissioning of Network Rail GRIP Stage 4. England can be signed.

“These are being progressed but there is no guarantee that the contract negotiations will be successful.

“If ECC is unable to enter into contract with Homes England GRIP4 and the wider Beaulieu Railway Station project will be unable to progress and will be cancelled, which will have an effect on other projects funded through the HIF bid.

“The Beaulieu Park project through the HIF bid is linked with the Chelmsford North East Bypass, which is the subject of a separate decision.

“Failure to secure HIF will likely mean cancellation of the bypass and writing off all historic expenditure.”

Leader of ECC David Finch said: “It would be disingenuous of us to pretend this project is an easy project and the very reason that the paper addressed those concerns is that we, as an authority are not prepared to accept the HIF money or indeed the recommendation by Network Rail as to what the outline proposal should be and the consequences of that proposal if it engaged ECC in an ongoing and unsubstantiated budget pressure.

“The whole purpose of the GRIP 4 is to find ways in which we can value-engineer the project with network rail so we reduce the totality of that cost by £14 million in order we can proceed.

“I am confident in the expertise of our officers that we will be able to work with Network Rail and bring about a satisfactory conclusion.

“But I would not want us to be putting forward a proposal that seemed like it was all sunshine and roses when the reality is there is a lot of work to be done and a lot of analysis to be done around the operation of the extension and the station itself.”

Leader of ECC Lib Dem group Mike Mackrory added: “I find some of the language alarming where it talks about significant risks and the implications of this not going ahead for the north east bypass which is something else we have been waiting for many years.

“How could the GRIP design come in over budget at £14 million?

“Surely there were cost limits they should have been working to.

“I am really alarmed at the impact it would have if that funding could not be bridged.”

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

In the first year of opening – planned for 2026 – it is expected to welcome more than two million passengers.

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter