Plans for the Western Rail Link to Heathrow (WRLtH) have been put back by a year.

Network Rail had hoped to submit its development consent order (DCO) to the Government in Winter 2021 but rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris has now told the Heathrow Area Transport Forum (HATF) the date has been put back to Winter 2022 because of the pandemic.

And the Government’s approval also remains subject to a satisfactory business case and financial contribution from the airport.

In a response to a letter from HATF chair Val Shawcross, Mr Heaton-Harris said: “The Department will work to update the business case to reflect the significant changes to both the aviation and rail sectors as a result of the current pandemic and work closely with HAL (Heathrow Airport Ltd)  to agree funding arrangements that offer value for money for the taxpayer and for the users of the airport.

“However, this will result in Network Rail’s planned submission of the DCO application moving from Winter 2021 to Winter 2022.

“Whilst this delay is regrettable, it is necessary both to guarantee maximum value for the taxpayer and to ensure the business case is based upon firm analysis which reflects the impact of the pandemic, whilst also making the best use of public spending in the face of serious economic challenges.”

Signs of progress on long-awaited WRLtH had appeared to emerge in early 2020 before the pandemic struck.

Guests at our Spotlight on Heathrow event on November 26 heard the scheme would help 14 million people, many of them in the West Country, Wales and West Midlands.

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