Action needed over Stansted links or region will be “severely handicapped”, Essex MP says.
PUBLISHED: 18:23 12 January 2016 | UPDATED: 19:34 12 January 2016
East Anglia will be “severely handicapped” if rail improvements to Stansted airport are not completed soon, an Essex MP has said.
Sir Alan Haselhurst said there had been a 30-year struggle for upgrades, and it was in nobody’s interests to wait any longer, as he urged the Government to increase the number of tracks on the key link.
“There has been a 30-year struggle to get this improvement, and if nothing is done soon, the potential of the Anglian region will be severely handicapped,” he warned a Westminster Hall debate in the House of Commons.
Rail access to Stansted is a “spur” off the main line, with a single track tunnel into the airport limiting capacity and Sir Alan said major carriers had not been attracted to the Essex hub because the original 41-minute train service from Liverpool Street had slowed down over the years as limited trains were used for commuter routes.
“The day was saved by the emergence of low-cost carriers such as Ryanair and easyJet, which had never been heard of at the time the terminal was built. The terminal was not designed for the kind of traffic that it eventually found itself accommodating,” he added.
The airport, which sees about 22million passengers each year, has a wider regional effect with world-class businesses clustering close by, notably in Cambridge but also at various points along the spine of that railway and further afield, the Saffron Walden MP said, telling the minister there was a “dream scenario” for anyone who wanted to build and operate a railway and operate trains.
“The airport is growing its passenger numbers and needs to find employees. High-tech companies, large and small, need to draw in staff, and influential business visitors are coming from overseas. There is a level of housing construction along the line which, although it may be worrying to some in its concentration, is nevertheless unavoidable if we are to provide homes for aspiring owners. However, in all this time, nothing has been done to improve the West Anglia rail line,” he added.
Answering the debate, airports minister Robert Goodwill said he had travelled by train to Stansted when he had visited so he could experience it first hand.
He said the airport provided significant economic benefits, adding that there were plans to add a third track on the rail link between Tottenham Hale and Angel road before 2019 and improve the power lines.
He also said that he looked forward to hearing about the findings of the West Anglia Rail Taskforce, which is looking at what improvements are needed in the region, which was being chaired by Sir Alan.
The MP also told the debate it was an “absolute scandal” that despite being told 38 years ago that the A120 was going to be a critical route across to the M11 for traffic coming from the east-coast ports the section between Braintree and Marks Tey was still not in place.
He also claimed that the motorway service station at junction eight of the M11 might need to be moved because the decision to put the service station there had caused chaos.
Chris Wiggan, Stansted Airport’s Head of External affairs, said MAG had been in discussions with Government since it took ownership of Stansted in 2013 and we have made a number of recommendations to Network Rail to improve journey times, reliability and frequency of services on the mainline to London and Cambridge.
“We want to see a sustained programme of investment in the railway and have called on the Government to use the new East Anglia rail franchise as an opportunity to adopt a joined-up approach to tackling rail and aviation capacity issues.”