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Bristol Post
Bristol Post
Adam Postans

Bristol Underground dream may not survive after current mayor leaves office

Marvin Rees says he does not know if his long-held ambition for a Bristol Underground will survive after he leaves office next year. The city mayor, whose term ends in May 2024 along with the elected mayoral role, also admitted that the cost of a mass transit system with sections of overground and tunnels where this was not possible was roughly double the reported price tag of £4billion when he first announced the idea in 2017.

Labour metro mayor Dan Norris, who leads the West of England Combined Authority (Weca) which is responsible for strategic transport, gave a categoric “No” when asked on BBC Points West in February if the region would ever get an underground.

Days later, an unpublished report leaked to the Local Democracy Reporting Service concluded that the scheme would cost between £15billion and £18billion – estimates dismissed by fellow Labour mayor Mr Rees whose office said it “totally rejects the report and its content” which it blamed on a “deeply flawed” approach by Weca.

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Then a letter emerged from the Bristol mayor to Mr Norris in March that urged his combined authority counterpart not to rule out a tube network and put the real cost at about £7billion. Now, in an interview on BBC Radio Bristol John Darvall’s show, Mr Rees said the £18billion figure was based on the entire project going underground which was not necessary in many areas.

Mr Darvall said that Bristol City Council would be run by a committee system from next year and that Mr Norris was not keen on the underground. He asked: “Do you think it’s going to survive after you?”

Bristol’s mayor replied: “I don’t know, is the truth. People are getting tied up in the description that it sounds too fanciful, but we need a transport solution for Bristol.”

Mr Rees said the current population of 472,000 would grow to 550,000 by the middle of this century and that during the day there were about one-million people in the city. “So whichever way we cut it up we need a transport system that transports masses of people around the city each day,” the mayor said.

“We need to encourage them to get onto that. It needs to be 100 per cent segregated, otherwise it won’t be reliable. It’s what a world-class city needs.

“If you come up with the descriptors of what we want – affordable, reliable, 100 per cent segregated – and you’re thinking about a system that will actually stop in the densest areas of the city to maximise customer usage then the scheme begins to design itself.

“We’ve done some more work on the mass transit system with our own transport team looking at the options and we had some questions about the report that was leaked out of the combined authority looking at the cost which wasn’t a correct report because it didn’t represent a mass transit system.”

He said the £18billion price tag given in the report reflected only a 100 per cent underground and so the actual cost would be much cheaper because less tunnelling was required.

Mr Rees said: “Over 50 per cent of London’s transport system is actually overground. What we are talking about is underground where it needs to go underground, where that is the only viable way.”

Mr Darvall said he had done some rough figures based on the cost of the newly opened Elizabeth Line in London and said the real cost for a West of England mass transit system including tunnels would be about £9billion.

The mayor replied: “That’s a lot closer to where we think.” He said other UK mayors such as London’s Sadiq Khan, Manchester’s Andy Burnham and West Yorkshire’s Tracy Brabin were “not baulking” at their commitments to mass transit.

“So it’s about looking at the prize and letting the system design itself,” Mr Rees added.

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