Conservative Chancellor George Osborne was in Norwich today to announce a £550 million package to improve the Great Eastern Mainline shortening journey times between Norwich and London with a promise for services to and from Ipswich taking just 60 minutes.
Mr Osborne praised Ipswich MP Ben Gummer and fellow Tories in the region, Chloe Smith (Norwich North) and Priti Patel (Witham) for the work they have done to date lobbying transport ministers and their Railway Manifesto published in conjunction with local councils. In keeping with Coalition protocol, the Chancellor also gave a nod to Liberal Democrat Simon Wright (Norwich South). Today’s announcement looks like it is putting the flesh on the bones of the announcement made by the Government in January, which stated Network Rail (owned by the taxpayer) would be spending £1.4bn on the Great Eastern mainline infrastructure improvements between 2014 – 2019. Back in January, the Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin was yet to green-light the scheme. It would seem today’s announcement in Norwich tells us half the budget has been approved.
The Chancellor, speaking today at Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, said: “East Anglia is one of the fastest growing regions in the country and is establishing itself as a world leader in science, technology and manufacturing. To support this growth we need to have modern, efficient rail services and improved connections.
I am absolutely behind the region and that’s why I’ve set up a taskforce to see how we can build on the excellent work by Chloe Smith, Ben Gummer, Priti Patel and Simon Wright.”
Ben Gummer along with his regional parliamentary colleagues mentioned by Mr Osborne will sit on the taskforce. I am sure Mr Gummer’s focus will be on introducing “Ipswich in Sixty” (hat-tip on the phrase: Ipswich Spy), ensuring Ipswich commuters’ journey times into and out of London are reduced to 60 minutes, which will make a big difference. It is not clear from today’s announcement by Mr Osborne how that will be achieved.
The Department for Transport has also asked Abellio, parent company of the Greater Anglia franchise, to start refurbishing their rolling stock, including making them more business-friendly by introducing power sockets into carriages to charge laptops and mobile phones.
£550 million is a lot of money so some improvements are going to happen – the key is for local MPs to explain how those changes will reduce journey times.