Transport minister Chris Heaton-Harris pledges to New Forest East MP Julian Lewis that Waterside railway passenger service will only be reintroduced if it provides value for money
THE reintroduction of the Waterside railway passenger service will only happen if it represents good money for taxpayers, a government minister has promised.
The pledge was made by Chris Heaton-Harris in a letter to New Forest East MP Julian Lewis.
Dr Lewis said he supports the scheme in principle but has called on the government to demand a comprehensive feasibility study before any go-ahead, which would cost millions of pounds.
Seen by the A&T, the letter revealed the minister will receive an update on the scheme in the new year. It also pledged a meeting between Dr Lewis and minister Wendy Morton, who is taking over from Mr Heaton Harris as he becomes Minister for Europe.
The letter stated: "Firstly, please be assured that I do understand your concerns and that no decisions to implement this scheme will be taken until I am fully satisfied that the benefits to the Waterside area are clear and that the proposals represent good value for money for taxpayers."
Dr Lewis's key concerns are that the scheme could cause more congestion in Marchwood and Totton, the line does not go all the way to Fawley, and it could harm bus and ferry services.
Mr Heaton-Harris said Hampshire County Council and Network Rail were "working to understand" the issues, and stressed the proposal "is not intended to further frustrate car users".
A "particular challenge", the minister conceded, will be assessing impacts on bus and ferry services.
But the project does offer a "real opportunity" for transport providers to work with HCC to develop a strategy to "maximise transport integration and opportunities".
He added that getting the Waterside line "back on the railway map" could "lead to further extension should there be a case for doing so in the future".
Dr Lewis told the A&T: "It is good news that the minister promised me a meeting to discuss the scheme once an update had been received on the likely costs and benefits, early next year.
"I trust that his successor, Wendy Morton, will fulfil that pledge."
Dr Lewis first voiced concern in November and said the project needed a "reality check" before major sums were spent.
He revealed that constituent Colin Cooley, an objector and former project manager at Fawley oil refinery, had outlined concerns to HCC and a Department for Transport representative but not received a promised detailed response.
Supporters claim the line will alleviate traffic on the busy A326 ahead of the planned development of 1,500 homes at the old Fawley power station.
While no public trains have run on the route for at least 50 years, a successful test journey was made in 2020 by South Western Railway. This year Chancellor Rishi Sunak granted another £7m to help the project move forward.