Concerns loom large over £37m rail station project

Cllr Alex Beckett and Waterbeach railway station

Concerns have been raised over whether the risk of relocating Waterbeach railway station would be too great for one authority. Inset: county councillor Alex Beckett said the authority appeared to be "on the hook". - Credit: Google Maps/Cambridgeshire County Council

Concerns have been raised over whether the risk of leading the relocation of Waterbeach railway station would be too great for one authority. 

Questions were also asked as to why the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) was proposing to take on the scheme now, when it was previously planned to be developer-led. 

The GCP has proposed to not only bridge the £20 million gap in the relocation project, but to take on the delivery of the new station as well. 

The station relocation is estimated to cost £37m.  

The completion of a new station was made a condition of the approval of outline plans for 4,500 in the Waterbeach New Town development by South Cambridgeshire District Council. 

The developer, RLW Estates, is proposed to contribute £17m towards the cost of relocating the station. 

At a meeting of the GCP’s joint assembly on June 9, members said they recognised the need for the station to be built.  

But they raised concerns over the risk the GCP would be opening itself up to by taking on the project. 

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Members of the public also asked why a public authority was now proposing to fund the majority of the project. 

One question from a member of the public read out at the meeting said: “RLW repeatedly stated at public consultations that they as the developer would fully fund the relocated station. 

“Why were RLW unable to secure a commercial funding arrangement? Does this indicate the risk/terms are so difficult that no funder was prepared to commit.  

“If so, why is the GCP prepared to do so?” 

Councillor Heather Williams, from South Cambridgeshire District Council, asked why the GCP’s position had now changed. 

She said at the time the application was considered, the district council had been told the GCP would not provide funding for the scheme. 

Cllr Tim Bick, from Cambridge City Council, asked why the project was appearing before the members now, adding that for some it appeared to have ‘arrived from nowhere’. 

Peter Blake, transport director, said the GCP had previously believed the funding would be coming from elsewhere, so at the time of the planning permission had not seen a need for public funding to be used. 

However, it was explained that this was no longer considered viable following both Network Rail and the Department for Transport both declining to provide funding towards the project. 

Niamh Matthews, assistant director of strategy and programme, said: “There is a requirement to relocate the station as part of the planning decision. 

“In order to unlock the homes, the station needs to be moved.  

“This proposal means we are meeting that requirement with the city deal used as a mechanism to do that.” 

Stephen Kelly, joint director of planning and economic development at the Greater Cambridge shared planning service, said the developer could fund the project. 

However, he said this could mean fewer affordable homes provided in the development. 

Cllr Williams said that the fact that the rail industry had said no to funding the project “rang alarm bells” for her. 

Concerns were raised over the financial risk the authority would be taking on with the project, with members in particular highlighting inflation. 

Cllr Alex Beckett from Cambridgeshire County Council

Cllr Alex Beckett, from Cambridgeshire County Council, said the authority appeared to be “on the hook” if there were increases in cost due to inflation. - Credit: Cambridgeshire County Council

Cllr Alex Beckett, from Cambridgeshire County Council, said the authority appeared to be “on the hook” if there were increases in cost due to inflation. 

Cllr Katie Thornburrow, from the city council, said she would like to possibly delay a decision while there is economic uncertainty, but recognised that doing so could delay the homes being built. 

Cllr Bick said he would report to the executive board that the members of the Joint Assembly would like them to check if there are any ways the authority “can protect itself even more” in terms of risk. 

He added that the members were “cautious” about the plans. 

The funding will need to be approved by the authority’s executive board, which is due to next meet on June 30, before it can go ahead.