Memorandum by North Somerset Council (PRF
Passenger Rail Franchising
The Planning and Transport Committee of my Council
considered the draft franchising statement and press notice issued
by Stephen Byers on the 16th July 2001.
Members were concerned about the change in policy
to encourage franchise extensions rather than new franchises as
it was felt that in the North Somerset context the lack of a new
Wessex franchise could seriously affect the ability to deliver
I was instructed to write to Stephen Byers Secretary
of State and to make a written submission to the Transport Sub
Committee setting out the Council's concerns about the change
The Council's submission addresses the first
three bullet points set out in Press Notice 03/2001-02 dated 23rd
July 2001. In particular failure to proceed with the Wessex Franchise
will not in North Somerset's view achieve rapid improvements in
reliability, comfort etc., and will not secure investment in additional
improvements and capacity or provide a framework for major infrastructure
The Council recognises the difficulties experienced
under the current re-franchising regime and acknowledges that
early benefits may be achieved by renegotiating some existing
franchise such as the First Great Western Franchise. Clearly North
Somerset would potentially benefit through this process.
However, Members are concerned about the potential
impact of the new franchising statement on the proposal for the
Wessex franchise. This franchise would replace the existing Wales
and West Local Services and the rest of this statement focuses
on the future of these services.
My Council is taking an active role in the development
of rail policy and is working closely with the SRA and Railtrack
to identify and deliver significant improvements to rail services
including expanding the current rail network.
Day to day contact with the current franchise
operator in the Bristol area (previously Wales & West) have
made it clear that the current franchise is unable to do any more
than survive until the end of the franchise period. Indeed because
of the financial basis of the current franchise it has been a
struggle to avoid service reductions. It is the Council's view
that the current franchise does not give scope to deliver critical
improvements to the rail network in North Somerset.
At present the M5 motorway is the main commuter
route between Weston-super-Mare and Bristol and is heavily congested.
The rail service provides the only alternative and is constrained
by questionable reliability and overcrowding. There is also poor
integration of services with destinations and modes and an irregular
The Council has worked closely with the SRA
on the process of re-franchising and is strongly supportive of
the new Wessex Franchise Concept and the separation of Wessex
from Wales and the Borders.
The new Franchise will establish a Bristol operating
unit which will be able to focus on the needs of the Bristol area
to develop an integrated rail network. At present there is no
focus within the franchise to pull together the service network
for the Bristol area.
Discussions have been held with the SRA and
potential bidders to define the level and nature of services which
are required. Recognising the strategic nature of rail services
North Somerset has joined with the other Unitary Authorities in
the Bristol Area to formulate a Rail Strategy document. This document
is seen by the Councils as fundamental to delivering the Avon
Structure Plan Spatial Strategy. The Council's Policy and priorities
are set out in the Local Transport Plan.
The Council is also an active member of the
South West Regional Assembly. The strategic rail requirements
and priorities for the South West reflect North Somerset priorities
and are recognised as being of sub regional importance because
the Bristol area is identified in the draft Regional Planning
Guidance as the main growth area in the South West.
An agreed rail vision for the South West has
been prepared in collaboration with the SWRDA. If the Regional
and Sub Regional Spatial Strategies are to be delivered it is
vital that the rail improvements for the Bristol area are implemented.
Within North Somerset the Council has committed
substantial resources (£125,000) to assist the process of
re-franchising. Consultants have been commissioned and have now
reported recommending the re-establishment of a rail passenger
service between the regeneration area of Portishead Dockside and
Bristol. This link has considerable potential to provide a journey
to work route into Bristol, as well as facilitating tourist visits.
Another study has assessed in detail the potential
for an improved clock face service between Weston-super-Mare and
Yate via Bristol.
The results of the studies have been discussed
with the SRA, potential bidders and Railtrack. Indeed Railtrack's
Incremental Outputs Scheme already identifies infrastructure improvements
between Weston-super-Mare and Bristol as high priority.
In conclusion North Somerset has worked with
other partners at a local, Sub Regional and Regional level to
identify what is required to achieve the Governments objectives
of increased local rail use and reduced overcrowding in the context
of Structure Plan and Regional Planning Spatial Strategies. The
improvements identified are vital to the achievement of the spatial
strategies and in the view of the Council can only be delivered
Environmental Strategy & Policy