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Letter from minister throws shade on vital Ely Junction upgrade on King's Lynn line

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Local MPs have expressed concern over whether upgrades to a crucial rail junction that serves Lynn and holds hopes for improvements to the line to Cambridge and London.

The East of England All Party Parliamentary Group has written to transport secretary Grant Shapps, saying it is “most concerned” about whether Ely North Junction, will receive investment for what it calls “overdue” improvements.

The group, which is co-chaired by Waveney’s Conservative MP Peter Aldous, said its concern had been caused by a letter they received from Mr Shapps’ junior colleague, minister of state for transport Wendy Morton.

The longer 8-carriage Great Northern train service arrives at Platfrom One in King's Lynn.. (57541957)
The longer 8-carriage Great Northern train service arrives at Platfrom One in King's Lynn.. (57541957)

Ms Morton’s letter had been sent in response to an earlier letter from the group, which had urged improvements not just to Ely but also to Haughley Junction in Suffolk.

Ely Junction is important because it links five lines connecting Norwich, Ipswich, Cambridge, Peterborough and Lynn.

Without the mooted £22 million upgrade there is no chance of Lynn having two trains to King's Cross per hour instead of the present one.

Ms Morton said that while the Ely programme had a “strong alignment” with the Government’s priorities, she was still deciding which projects across the country to give funding to, and some will have to be “cancelled or indefinitely paused”.

She notes that the scheme “continues to demonstrate sound decarbonisation and connectivity benefits, but it also continues to require a significant amount of public funding, with a total cost of over £450 million”.

And she adds that, post-pandemic, “it is becoming clear that travel patterns are likely to have changed into the longer term and [the] government is therefore having to make difficult decisions to restore the railway’s financial sustainability”.

In a new letter to Mr Shapps, the group states that not achieving the upgrade in full could breach the government’s own policy of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

They add that the junction is particularly important for freight coming from the freeport at Felixstowe, and so the reference to the “travel patterns” of passengers is misplaced.

“As a significant contributor to the UK economy this investment would be good for UK plc as well as for businesses and communities in the East of England,” the group’s letter reads.

“It would also help the Government deliver its ambitions to level up the country, achieve net zero, and drive global Britain forward whilst simultaneously increasing the East of England’s already net contribution to the Treasury.”

The Eastern Powerhouse organisation, launched in Westminster in March 2022 as a business-led grouping making the strategic argument for greater investment in the East of England, was quick to condemn the letter.

Its chairman, James Palmer, said: "A decision not to fund the Ely North Junction upgrade would be a body blow to businesses in the East and also the general public.

"It is inconceivable that this vital infrastructure improvement would not be delivered in virtually any other part of the country.

"Yet again, the East of England is being given second class treatment when it comes to investment, despite having the fourth largest regional economy in the UK.

"Compare the numbers: The Government recently announced £96 billion of funding for rail in the North and Midlands, and yet it fails to find a mere £425 million to improve a junction that is critical to rail journeys from Ipswich, Norwich, Felixstowe, Cambridge and Peterborough.

"Freight services from Felixstowe have to be sent via London, which negatively impacts on Tilbury and restricts its freight allocation. Surely a Government with Net Zero ambitions should be upgrading rail bottlenecks as a matter of course, not hiding behind Covid to stop vital schemes such as Ely.

"The Eastern Powerhouse calls on Government to urgently reconsider its decision on Ely North."

A Department for Transport spokeswoman said: “The pandemic has brought about enormous change to the railways, and government is having to make difficult decisions to bring spending back to affordable levels.

“We understand the local interest in the Ely and Haughley junction projects and will publish an update on this shortly.”

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