Plans to create underground network in Bristol would cost £18bn, report claims

People wait for Circle and District line trains at Westminster London Underground station. Union leaders have confirmed that next week's rail and Tube strikes will go ahead after talks failed to resolve a bitter row over pay, jobs and conditions. Picture date: Saturday June 18, 2022.
Marvin Rees first announced proposals for a mix of overground and underground networks in Bristol in 2017 Credit: PA

Plans to build an underground public transport network in Bristol would cost up to £18 billion, according to an unpublished report.

A document created by consultants for the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) directly contradicts previous estimates and claims by the city's mayor, Marvin Rees.

Mr Rees first advocated for creating a mixed transport system across Bristol that would include a tube network in 2017.

A spokesperson for Mr Rees said his office “totally rejects the report and its content”, which it claims relies on a “flawed approach” implemented by WECA.

The study has not been made public but has been seen by journalists from the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS).

It follows a recent public spat between the head of WECA, metro mayor Dan Norris, who is responsible for the region's transport, and Mr Rees.

Asked by the BBC if the city would one day see the creation of an underground on Monday 20 February, Mr Norris replied: "No".

Then on Thursday 23 February, fellow Labour politician Mr Rees hit back in a Bristol City Council press release, saying the combined authority’s “lack of ambition is staggering”.

Plans for a mixed system of overground and underground transport in Bristol Credit: Bristol City Council

'An underground system would set taxpayers back by £15.5bn-£18.3bn'

The study was conducted by consultancy company WSP and concluded an overground mass transit network would cost between £1.5 billion and £1.8 billion. But it added that an underground system would set taxpayers back 10 times that amount – £15.5 billion to £18.3 billion. 

This means plans for a public transport system for Bristol combining a mix of overground and underground networks, as first announced by Mr Rees in his 2017 State of the City Address, are unlikely to be financially possible.

At the time Mr Rees announced the proposals, it was estimated such a system would cost about £4 billion and WECA allocated £1.5 million three years ago for consultants to look into whether it was possible.

Last year, Mr Rees published links on his blog to two studies that appeared to be favourable to an underground network - but this study seen by the LDRS has never been made public.

'The costs are far removed from previous estimates... [due] to the flawed approach'

A spokesperson for Mr Rees said: “We totally reject the report and its content.

“It was commissioned by the West of England Combined Authority and their brief for WPS was initially challenged by Bristol City Council.

“The costs are far removed from previous estimates and are a response to the flawed approach that some in Weca have taken to this point.   

“Buses alone are not the answer to Bristol’s decades of transport failure, which we set Weca up to solve not ignore.

“Bristolians need and deserve a mass transit system, so the Mayor of Bristol will continue to strongly argue for the next tranche of delivery.

“Failure of leadership to deliver a mass transit system fails our city and our region.”

Mr Norris has declined to comment.

Credit: Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporter Service

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