CHAMBERS of Commerce along the route of the East West Rail line have backed calls for the government to speed up full delivery of the project.
The line will provide a vital boost for local economies along its length from Oxford to Cambridge, they say.
Among those eager for the line to open is Milton Keynes Chamber of Commerce, which says EWR is vital to unlocking constraints on the local economy, attracting investment, generating jobs and delivering local and national growth.
The Chamber’s chief executive Louise Wall said: “This project is an essential catalyst to a wealth of benefits and has our strong support.”
The organisation, along with Thames Valley, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce, have united to bolster the existing strong support for EWR from businesses across the entire route.
Milton Keynes has one of the highest start-up rates in the UK and healthy growth. However, says the Chamber, this has led to crowding which is limiting its potential. A large number of job vacancies are low skilled and low paid, transport costs are high and the city lacks academic links to expand and become a ‘triple helix’ model of private sector, public sector and academia necessary to drive forward growth.
East West Rail will improve connectivity and significantly reduce travel times, making jobs more accessible for people in Milton Keynes and Bletchley and widening the future workforce pool. The railway will bring businesses closer to their supply chains, research centres, and other sectors, creating a hub for innovation and enabling businesses to expand to accessible and affordable locations along the route.
Ms Wall said: “Milton Keynes is a thriving and growing business hub with great access to leisure activities yet is constrained by the existing transport network and a lack of space for businesses to expand. This is preventing people from accessing job opportunities and limiting inward investment.
“It is imperative that Bletchley and Milton Keynes are connected to the full route of East West Rail and that this transformational project gets delivered as quickly as possible to drive local and national growth.”
Milton Keynes Chamber – which represents 32,000 employees – says that the National Audit Office’s report, while acknowledging the inevitable issues around delivery, recognises the substantial benefits East West Rail will bring both regionally and nationally. The NAO report and the Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt’s recommitment to the project in the Autumn Statement, are high-level endorsements for the project.
Now EWR needs to be delivered at pace to ensure that the improved connectivity the railway will bring to Milton Keynes and Bletchley can generate wider economic growth for the region.
East West Rail includes an extensive upgrade of Bletchley station which will provide new direct and faster connections to Oxford, Cambridge and Bedford. This in turn will increase growth with more businesses attracted to Milton Keynes, bringing more high-quality jobs to the area.
Stu Young, co-founder of Independent MK, which supports local independent businesses, said: “Extra footfall is a key ingredient to keeping high street shops and small independent businesses thriving in our local area. Connecting Milton Keynes (Bletchley) to Oxford and Cambridge will be most welcome to help increase the number of visitors, strengthening the independent business scene even more.”