George Freeman brings together a consortium to try and unlock a possible solution to the Wymondham railway tunnel bottleneck
9th July 2012
The planning of Wymondham’s future is rightly a matter for the Town and District Councils, in consultation with Wymondham’s residents, to decide. For too long development has been something done to communities by planners in London, rather than something done by communities for themselves, which is the central idea behind the Localism Act. Whilst planning is not part of an MP's responsibilities, I continue to take an active interest in the planning process and in this special town’s development and I want to do all I can to help conserve the town’s rich heritage and healthy green spaces as best we can. I have been particularly focused on securing the necessary communications infrastructure, including fast broadband, rail and road links which are key to making sure the development of the town is genuinely sustainable and don't lead to traffic gridlock and a lack of facilities.
The central challenge in planning Wymondham as a historic market town is to keep the historic town centre vibrant and prevent a characterless 'urban sprawl' absorbing local villages and damaging the identity of the town. The railway line and old A11 Norwich -London Road running North /South through the middle of the town poses a challenge, 'cutting off' the East of the town, and funneling new housing to the north. Opening up the bottleneck as part of putting the station right at the heart of the town would help to ease traffic congestion, promote better rail links, make it easier for visitors and commuters to get in and out easily, and ease congestion in the historic town centre.
For years it has been assumed that the tunnel is impossible to open up. I want to test hat assumption and see if it might be feasible, at what cost, and if it might be possible to raise the necessary funds from various parties. That’s why last week I chaired a meeting of the County, District and Town Councils with Network Rail, the track provider and Abellio, the train operating company, which now has control of the stations under the current franchise agreement. I am hoping that together we might be able to find a financing scheme for opening up the bottleneck by widening the road under the Station Road railway bridge and replacing the 118-year-old bridge to create a larger carriageway enabling traffic and pedestrians to move more freely without the threat of flooding in heaving rain. If we also improved the station parking and ticketing facilities, and access from East and West, we would help put the station back at the heart of the town.
Network Rail have agreed to undertake feasibility and costing work this summer. I will be convening a follow up meeting in the autumn to look at the costs and see if a funding package might be put together.
The combination of the Localism Act, new rail franchises and South Norfolk Distric Council's Area Action Plan for the town mean this is a once in a lifetime opportunity that I believe we have a duty to explore.