The deadline to submit an Expression of Interest for the national headquarters of  Great British Railways has now passed. The Great British Railways Transition Team are now in the process of assessing the EOIs and forming the shortlist, which will be announced over the summer in 2022.

Introduction 

Britain’s railways are embarking on a major, once in a generation reform that will transform the way in which the sector works, bringing together track and train to deliver a customer-focused railway. Great British Railways will be the railway’s new guiding mind, and a Transition Team has been established to drive forward its design and deliver early benefits.  

Our vision is to create a simpler, better railway for everyone in Britain. 

A commitment to establish Great British Railways was made in May 2021 as part of the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail, focused on delivering sweeping reforms that create a truly passenger-focused railway. It will serve as a single, accountable public body responsible for running Britain’s railways. As a new organisation, with a new culture, focused on serving the interests of everyone in Britain, Great British Railways will need a new national headquarters. 

On 4 October 2021, the Secretary of State for Transport announced that a competition will take place to find a location for the headquarters outside of London.  

The Great British Railways national headquarters selection process is being run by the Great British Railways Transition Team (GBRTT) on behalf of the Department for Transport (DfT). The competition will seek to recognise places with a rich railway heritage, strong links to the national network and public support for the selected location, creating a great opportunity to promote communities as the proud home for the start of a new era in Britain’s railways. 

Local authorities of towns or cities are responsible for submitting an Expression of Interest (EOI) as the first step of the selection process. A public consultation vote on a shortlist of places will then be conducted as part of the competition to test public support. All the key expectations, dates and details regarding the competition are set out in the sections below. 

This guidance has been produced by GBRTT to assist the towns or cities that wish to express their interest in applying for the national headquarters of Great British Railways.  

You may also be interested in our Frequently Asked Questions.

Key dates 

The competition will consist of four stages that will enable GBRTT to find the most suitable candidate for the national headquarters. 

Stage 1 – Expression of Interest deadline: 16 March 2022

Stage 2 – Shortlist announced: summer 2022

Stage 3 – Ministerial visits to shortlisted places and a public vote: summer 2022

Stage 4 – Headquarters' location announced: summer 2022

Guidance 

Great British Railways aims and objectives 

The government unveiled its commitment in the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail to create a new public body, Great British Railways, which will own the infrastructure, receive the fare revenue, run and plan the network and set most fares and timetables. Network Rail, the current infrastructure owner, will be absorbed into this new organisation, as will many people and functions from the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) and the DfT. Great British Railways will own the railways across Great Britain and run them as an integrated system to achieve common outcomes in the public interest. 

The new organisation will work closely with partners across the sector, including freight operators and suppliers, to help deliver a customer-focused rail system.  

The Secretary of State for Transport has also set out the core goals that will define Great British Railways, including: 

  • changing the culture of the railways not simply creating a bigger version of Network Rail 
  • thinking like our customers, both passengers and freight, and putting them first 
  • growing the network and getting more people travelling 
  • making the railways easier to use 
  • simplifying the sector to do things quicker, driving down costs and being more accountable 
  • having a can-do, not a can’t do culture 
  • harnessing the best of the private sector 
  • playing a critical role in the national shift to net zero 

Great British Railways will be structured to create a balance between the need to take a whole-system view nationally, particularly for freight and cross-country services, and to meet the needs of local communities and regions. Key network-wide decisions will be taken at national level where necessary, with most strategic and operational matters led by five regional divisions. These will initially be organised in line with the regions established in Network Rail’s recent Putting Passengers First programme, which reflects how passengers and freight move across the network today. 

The five regional divisions will be responsive and accountable for the whole system in their areas, including budgets. Within each division, integrated local teams will bring decision making closer to the people and places that the railways serve. They will be responsible for day-to-day delivery on routes of the network and will be integrated across track and train, bringing together infrastructure, customer service, station management and train operations into one team, in partnership with operators.  

What will the Great British Railways’ national headquarters be like? 

Great British Railways will be shaped and run by empowered teams across the country in regional divisions that work together to deliver a single, integrated national network. As a result, the national team is planned to be a lean business unit, with its staff mainly focused on supporting the regional divisions. Most of Great British Railways’ operational capability will sit in regional rail organisations based across the five regions. This aligns with the Plan for Rail’s commitment to simplifying rail: with clear leadership, accountable decision making and a rail system run closer to the passengers and places it serves.

The national headquarters is expected to be home primarily to corporate functions, a number of network-wide capabilities, and meeting and collaboration spaces that enable people from across the regions and industry to come together. The headquarters is expected to house a modest staff to undertake these activities. The headquarters needs to be in place by the time Great British Railways is established in the coming years.

Who can apply? 

We welcome submissions from local authorities from across Great Britain. Applicants should meet the competition’s selection criteria which are aligned with railway priorities, value for money and broader governmental policies. 

Applications can be submitted by: 

  • District councils 
  • Borough councils 
  • City councils 
  • Unitary authorities
  • Metropolitan boroughs 
  • County councils 
  • Mayoral and non-mayoral combined authorities 
  • Welsh counties or county boroughs
  • Scottish unitary authorities

For towns and cities where there are multiple tiers of local government, local authorities will need to agree and work together as only one submission per town or city will be accepted.  

Sub-National Transport Bodies and Local Enterprise Partnerships should not submit an application but are welcome to support applications within their local areas. The Secretary for State for Transport has announced that the location for the headquarters will be outside of London.

The national headquarters is expected to be located in a single site and applicants will need to identify a potential site (or several site options) within the application.

Potential sites will preferably use existing estate that is either publicly owned and/or part of the public sector rail estate, although alternative proposals may be considered. The proposed sites will be taken into consideration within the value for money criteria, discussed below. At this stage, the sites should only be proposed and no engagement or agreements with site owners or existing staff/teams should be made until after the competition.

GBRTT cannot guarantee that the proposed site will be the ultimate site for the national headquarters and further due diligence, appraisal and procurement will need to be conducted as part of appropriate project management processes. The purpose of this competition is to select a location not a site, but potential sites or site options should be used to allow the applicant to develop a compelling submission.

Applicants must be recognised local authorities and use a local authority email address for their applications.

The selection process 

The selection process will consist of the following stages: 

Stage 1 

Expression of Interest: Applicants for the Great British Railways national headquarters competition will express their interest, explaining why they are best suited to meet a set of criteria for the national headquarters. Further guidance is provided in the ‘EOI questions’ section below. 

The deadline for submitting an Expression of Interest was 16 March 2022.

Stage 2 

Short-listing: GBRTT will assess the EOIs and will shortlist locations that most effectively demonstrate the selection criteria. The shortlisted towns or cities will be considered in the subsequent stage. 

The shortlist will be announced in summer 2022. 

Stage 3 

  1. Visiting the short-list: Government Ministers and GBRTT representatives will visit each of the shortlisted towns and cities to gain a greater understanding of prospective locations’ intentions for the headquarters and to engage local communities ahead of a public vote. Further advice will be given to shortlisted locations in advance of the visits. 
  2. Public vote: GBRTT will host a non-binding, online vote which will give the public the opportunity to support and vote for their preferred location from the shortlist. The vote will take place around the visits to use the positive momentum and information shared during the visits to inform the public for their vote. The result of this vote will be used to measure the level of public support for each location and will be considered as part of final decision making.  

    More details on how the vote will be run and any requirements for applicants will be shared nearer the time.

The visits and public consultation vote will begin in summer 2022.

Stage 4 

Decision: The Secretary of State for Transport will then make the final decision considering all elements of the process, including the following factors: 

  • GBRTT’s assessment of the applicants EOIs against the selection criteria 
  • The understanding gained from the visits (as is relevant to the selection criteria) 
  • The result of the public vote 
  • Other public duties (such as managing public money) 

Announcement: The Secretary of State will make a public announcement regarding the selected location in summer 2022. 

How to apply 

The deadline to complete an Expression of Interest has now passed (23:59 on 16 March 2022). 

Assessment criteria 

The submitted EOIs will be assessed by GBRTT. Six selection criteria will be used to inform, support and complete the selection process. More details of each of these selection criteria and what is expected in the Expressions of Interest are set out below: 

  • Alignment to Levelling Up objectives: Applicants will need to demonstrate how they are currently and plan in the future to support delivery of the government’s levelling up missions and reducing regional disparities across the UK, as set out in the Levelling Up White Paper.  

    We aim to choose a location that will deliver effective synergies with other levelling up initiatives, while also ensuring that opportunities and benefits are shared fairly between and within regions. We will look at any similar rail and public sector projects and headquarters plans linked to a location as a consideration within the selection process. 

    When selecting the location of the headquarters we will consider appropriate alignment of the applicant with the government’s Places for Growth programme. 
  • Connected and easy to get to – Locations should be easy to get to by rail and other sustainable modes and well connected to the nations and regions of Great Britain. Applicants should also demonstrate a location’s ability to support social and economic ties between towns and cities across the UK.  
  • Opportunities for Great British Railways – Applicants should demonstrate how the location can effectively enhance engagement with customers, the private sector and the wider rail industry. This includes proximity to the supply chain and access to the existing sector workforce. Applicants should also demonstrate opportunities for Great British Railways to engage beyond the rail industry, including wider transport, social and economic links. 
  • Railway heritage and links to the network – The competition will recognise towns and cities with a rich railway history that are strongly linked to the network. Applicants should demonstrate current and historic importance for railway employment, innovation and heritage.  
  • Value for Money: Applicants should demonstrate how they can maximise efficiency and affordability, including through use of the existing publicly and/or railway owned estate, to deliver value for money for taxpayers and customers.  
  • Public Support: Applicants should demonstrate the importance of the national headquarters to their local communities, identity and values. This can be shown through existing community links to rail and the current importance of rail as a transport service locally and regionally.

EOI questions 

Applicants are expected to answer each of the seven questions below within the EOI submission. The following table sets out each of these questions and provides prompts on how these could be linked to the selection criteria. 

EOI QuestionsSelection Criteria Prompts
Context 
1. Describe the location of your application and your proposed headquarters site
Describe the geographical area covered by the application and why it should be considered for hosting the headquarters?
Who else is involved in developing and supporting your application?
Describe the proposed site(s) for the national headquarters
What benefits do you expect your town/city will gain from accommodating the headquarters?
What do you think makes your town/city best suited as the location for Great British Railways’ national headquarters?
Levelling Up 
2. Describe how your application will align with and demonstrate Levelling Up
What is your vision for levelling up your local area? What is currently underway to deliver this?
What levelling up opportunities do you believe could be created for your town/city that are linked to the headquarters?
Connected and easy to get to 
3. Describe how your location is well connected to the rest of Great Britain and how people will access your site
How would employees and visitors be able to access the National Headquarters, via rail routes and other sustainable modes?
How connected is your location to and from other nations and regions of Great Britain?
How will your suggested sites be equally accessible to all members of society, in line with Public Sector Equality Duties?
Demonstrate how your location has supported successful collaboration between local authorities, business and other organisations across the UK to further social, economic and transport objectives.
Opportunities for Great British Railways 
4. Showcase the opportunities your location offers Great British Railways
How will your location enable Great British Railways to engage with customers, the private sector and wider transport industry?
What opportunities does your location offer for working with the rail supply chain, manufacturing hubs and institutes?
What opportunities exist for collaboration with the retail, economic and environmental sectors? How could Great British Railways benefit from these links?
What opportunities does/do the site(s)/building(s) itself offer Great British Railways to develop as an organisation?
Railway heritage & links to the network 
5. Demonstrate the location’s railway heritage and current network links
Demonstrate your railway heritage and the benefits it offers to Great British Railways.
What links are there with existing rail employment, innovation and sector bodies, such as regional or local offices?
How could you use the headquarters to preserve and enhance your railway heritage?
Value for Money  
6. Describe how your location will offer Great British Railways good value for money
How will your location offer financial efficiency to Great British Railways?
How does the proposed site allow Great British Railways to make good use of public money and keep costs down?
How does your location generate public value including economic, social and environmental impacts?
Public Support 
7. Demonstrate how the national headquarters will be welcomed by the local public
Demonstrate the importance of the railways to the local community and your region.
How do your intentions for the national headquarters tie in with the needs of your local communities, your identity and values?

Great British Railways national headquarters successful bidder 

The successful applicant will be designated as the location for the National Headquarters for Great British Railways. GBRTT will work with local authorities to plan, instigate and open the national headquarters.

Selection itself does not come with automatic funding, investment or guaranteed jobs. GBRTT will work with the local authority to understand the costs of establishing the headquarters.

GBRTT is keen to maximise the selected location’s success and impact, and will provide advice, support and convening power. This includes brokering relationships with GBRTT teams, DfT, other government bodies and rail industry organisations.

GBRTT retains the right to not select a location for the headquarters through this process. GBRTT also retains the right to alter the selection process to ensure a suitable location is found; GBRTT will communicate any changes to the process openly and with all applicants.

Media and publicity 

We expect there to be significant publicity associated with the selection process, with coverage at a local and national level. We intend to issue media releases when the submission period for EOIs closes, on the results of the shortlisting and final selection processes. We also expect there to be further media opportunities during the Ministerial visits to the shortlisted applicants.

Please use the hashtag #DestinationGBR when discussing or promoting the competition online.

Data sharing and transparency 

We want the competition process to be as transparent as possible and encourage you to think about how you consult, engage and communicate with stakeholders throughout the process.

You may also be interested in our Frequently Asked Questions.

For further information please contact: HQCompetition@gbrtt.co.uk.