Leading Bristol law firm Womble Bond Dickinson is celebrating the Secretary of State for Transport's decision on 14 November 2022 to make the Portishead branch line (MetroWest Phase 1) Order. The firm was instructed by North Somerset Council and the West of England Combined Authority to promote the Order required to authorise the railways reopening. This represents the largest local authority led railway reopening project in the country.

The Portishead to Bristol line will restore passenger train services to Portishead and Pill in North Somerset, along a route which first opened in the 1860s but was closed to passengers in 1964. The line passes through the Avon Gorge and beneath the Clifton Suspension Bridge before joining the existing main line at Parson Street, in Bristol. 

Portishead has grown very substantially in the years since the line closed to passengers and suffers from major road congestion at peak periods. Restoration of rail services along the branch line between Portishead and Bristol will help to alleviate that congestion and open up travel choices, particularly for those who do not have easy access to private cars.

Womble Bond Dickinson was first instructed in 2015, and the application for development consent was made in 2019. The Examination was then substantially delayed by the Covid pandemic, with hearings being conducted on a virtual basis during lockdown periods. 

Planning and infrastructure partner Richard Guyatt led the Womble Bond Dickinson team jointly with Senior Counsel Kevin Gibbs. They were assisted by a multi-disciplinary team including Lorrae Hendry, Frances Everett and Tim Neergaard-Tedder (Planning), Simon Hughes and Gareth Miles (Real Estate) and Sarah Holmes (Environmental). Stephen Tromans KC of 39 Essex Chambers was instructed to deal with habitats regulations issues. The team worked closely with Network Rail and its external legal advisors. 

Richard Guyatt of Womble Bond Dickinson said:

"The decision by the Secretary of State gives the people of Pill and Portishead the prospect that their towns will soon be restored to the railway network after half a century. The railway will be a tremendous asset for this part of the West of England, giving sustainable travel access to the centre of Bristol. The branch line also passes through the Avon Gorge and has great connections to the cycle networks in the area, so offers excellent leisure opportunities too. 

"It has been a privilege to work with North Somerset Council and the West of England Combined Authority, and work alongside Network Rail, to secure development consent for this scheme. We now look forward to working with our clients and the other key stakeholders to put Pill and Portishead back on the passenger railway map.

"Combining legal expertise and local knowledge, Womble Bond Dickinson has a strong history of advising on planning issues for some of the largest projects in the country. We are proud to have been part of a truly collaborative team that positively engaged with stakeholders to secure the re-opening of this historic railway line."

Kevin Gibbs of Womble Bond Dickinson added:

"This is a long awaited key decision to complement plans for a comprehensive public transport system across our sub region. We now have the certainty required to progress the scheme to its next stage of delivery of the track and procurement of an operational train timetable. We will continue to work with North Somerset Council and the West of England Combined Authority to progress the project to its full implementation."

Ranking in the UK's top 20 law firms, WBD provides legal expertise in twelve key sectors from across seven offices in the UK and 23 offices in the US. The firm's UK planning and infrastructure practice advises national and international clients on key issues combining legal expertise and deep sector knowledge.