Station green light after promises to cut millions from costs

A long awaited station to the east of Chelmsford has moved a significant step forward – a welcome turnaround since January when there were fears that the project could be scrapped over budget concerns.

At a meeting of the cabinet on Tuesday, it was agreed that Essex County Council (ECC) can now enter into an official agreement with Homes England to secure the release of just under £218 million from the national Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) – unlocking two major HIF projects in north Essex.

In total 14,109 new homes will be supported by the long-awaited railway station for Beaulieu and the Chelmsford North East Bypass.

It was only in January that ECC said the project could have been scrapped because of “ongoing and unsubstantiated budget pressure”.

At the time of the HIF bid in March 2019, the station budget was £157 million.

When the revised cost estimate was presented by Network Rail from the governance in rail projects Stage 3 report in September 2020, this had risen to £171 million.

ECC had expressed concern with a number of factors where scope exceeded what would generally be expected and around some of the pricing used.

Network Rail appointed a new contractor – J Murphy & Sons Limited – to take the project forward from GRIP Stage 4. J Murphy & Sons Limited set itself an internal target of cutting £25 million from the cost of the scheme.

But the value of engineering work is ongoing and the project team will not be able to report until May on the revised project budget.

Nonetheless, ECC’s cabinet approved entry into the Grant Determination Agreement on current costs of £171 million – for which funding has not been identified – but with the expectation that costs will be reduced to £157 million.

The value engineering process has been helped by ECC requesting a scope change that will see the multi-storey carpark removed from the scheme and replaced by a surface level car park.

This change was requested when data showed that the capacity provided by a multi-storey car park was not required. Benefits from car park revenue from the surface car park is separate from the station.

However, the estimated cost of parking at £8 per day has been questioned.

Councillor Chris Pond said: “The suggestion that car parking spaces could generate £8 each a day should be revised.

“We should not be encouraging another parkway station. What we should be encouraging in the context of the climate change emergency is an electric bus or ultralight rail hub, not just a car park.”

Cabinet member Councillor John Spence, who represents the area, said: “On behalf of my local residents, I want to thank all those who have been involved in creating such an emphasis on sustainable transport.

“On cycle ways and other means of access to the station which will minimise the amount of overflow parking we might otherwise experience.

“I would want to recognise how important this is to our climate and carbon reduction ambitions because of this very substantial amount of travel into central Chelmsford, which will be avoided by these thousands of residents being able to access this station without going these extra miles.”

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.

Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter