The Government remain committed to improving rail access to Heathrow airport, and recognise the importance of the improved rail connectivity that a western rail link could provide. We need to ensure that projects that we take forward reflect the changed shape of rail demand and are affordable. I understand that, as a consequence, the promoters of a western rail link are updating their proposal.
You will be aware, Mr Speaker, that I have long championed a western rail link to Heathrow, which would connect 20% of the UK population to within one interchange of our nation’s main airport. The Government committed to it over a decade ago, yet not a single spade has dug into the ground. Sadly, the Government have more of a reputation for cancelling rail links than for building them. Perhaps the rail Minister, who kindly met me recently about the issue, will have better news for us today. What meetings has he had with Heathrow airport, Thames Valley chamber of commerce and other stakeholders to progress this vital 4 mile rail link between Slough and Heathrow?
May I first thank the former shadow rail Minister for the times that we had together? It is true that he has been a champion of this project, and indeed pretty much every other rail project that I have gone to an all-party parliamentary group for, where he had already agreed to pre-fund it. I assume that now he is a shadow Treasury Minister he might be cancelling some of his previous decisions in a bid for fiscal credibility.
This particular project was due to be funded 50:50, but things have changed post pandemic for Heathrow, so it is right that it goes back to the drawing board. We will always support rail investments that can be paid for by private enterprise. That is what our Network North project is all about.