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'Economic growth will be choked off': Bruntwood boss warns of impact of Avanti West Coast cancellations

The chief executive of property giant Bruntwood has revealed the impact the continued cancellations of Avanti West Coast trains are having on Manchester's economy in a letter to the Secretary of State for Transport.

Chris Oglesby, who is also the chair of Manchester Business Sounding Board, appealed to Mark Harper to "take action to address the serious economic damage that is being caused by the continuing failure of our train services in the North and between the North and London".

He added that the "current situation is worse than anything we have experienced" and that performance is "worse even than after the May 2018 timetabling fiasco".

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Since August, Avanti West Coast has cut the number of trains in runs between London Euston and Manchester from one every 20 minutes to one an hour as well as limiting ticket sales. At the time, the operator blamed unofficial strike action, an accusation that has been rejected by unions.

In the letter, Mr Oglesby said: "The unilateral cutting of services between London and Manchester from three per hour to one per hour and the similar reductions in commuter and longer distance services provided by TPE and Northern Rail have created a rail service that is not simply completely unreliable but also harming the economy - short and long term.

"At our recent meeting of the Business Sounding Board, which represents all business sectors in the City, the problems on the rail network were identified (along with skills) as one of two major issues threatening our post-Covid recovery and our longer term economic growth.

"Manchester is the commercial centre of the North, and for many people and businesses is the global gateway to the world. Its prosperity matters, not just for the city region and the north but the entire UK.

"There are countless examples of problems caused by timetabling cuts, lack of tickets, overbooked seats, strikes, last minute cancellations and delays.

"Combined these have led to an almost complete collapse in confidence in the rail network as a means of transport for business and leisure.

"The two are of course intimately linked as people working in cities and support the evening economy and visitors to the city support businesses and cultural organisations.

"At a time when the economy needs a real boost to help us through the financial challenges we cannot allow this dire situation to continue. The impact on productivity is significant both directly and indirectly as the roads become more congested than ever.

"We have been given many examples of the consequences of the current crisis, almost every company is feeling the effects - either in terms of business being more difficult to do, staff being unable to get to work, increased costs and long term damage to Manchester’s reputation as a place to invest."

Mr Oglesby added: "Normal movement between the cities and between Manchester and London are all becoming too unreliable and expensive.

"People are routinely travelling from Manchester to London via Leeds and Sheffield adding significant time and inconvenience to their journeys.

"The unreliability of travelling for the day between Manchester and London means overnight stays would be necessary and the costs become uneconomic.

Avanti West Coast are running a reduced service between Manchester and London 'until further notice' (Darren Quinton/Birmingham Live)

"I realise that these are complex issues and that there are many contributing factors to the chaos that we are currently seeing on our railways.

"However I would urge you to engage quickly in a purposeful dialogue with the train companies, local leaders and business about how these issues can begin to be resolved.

"Without a reliable rail network the economic growth that the city has been generating and the UK and Government badly needs will be choked off.

"We know issues can be resolved but they need a shared intent, hard work and detailed recovery planning alongside a commitment to long term investment. We stand ready to engage in this."

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