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Skelmersdale Rail Station: getting a GRIP 1 on it

01.20.11 | Comment?

Regular readers will know that both I and the local Labour party, especially my colleague Jackie Coyle, have been working hard to push forward the possibility of new rail stations at Skelmersdale and, important in terms of Bickerstaffe, at Headbolt Lane, Tower Hill (bang on the Kirkby/Simonswood border).

My own work dates back a number of years, and the first post about it all dates back to before I was a councillor, though I was on the case before the blog came along.  Old hard copy Bickerstaffe Records are in archive now, but I remember lobbying 2006 on the 2006-2011 Merseyside Local Transport Plan.

Progress has been slow, certainly, and it was always going to be.  Along the way I’ve had to remind the Tory administration that railways actually exist, and that leaving the potential for a railway station out of the Skelmersdale town centre masterplan, despite documentation to say it was a possibility, might not be a very good idea.

More recently, I’ve been down at Manchester City Council lobbying the Council leader, Sir Richard Leese, ensuring that he and his officers remember the strategic potential of Skelmersdale for Greater Manchester as part of the Northern Hub developments; although Skelmersdale is beyond the reach of this plan, it’s only just off the edge of the maps, and I’ve tried to stress how linking a non-rail town to the regional economy in this way will bring benefits for all.

It’s not been easy with this Tory Council mismanaging things and showing startling ignorance about all matters railway.  As late as September 2010 we had cabinet reports more or less saying that all this stuff was really nothing to do with us. 

I think this may have also been around the time when a Tory scrutiny chairman seemed non-plussed that I should want to correct a Council document which said Merseyrail instead of Merseytravel, and expressed astonishment that anyone would be interested in the difference (not sure this made it to the blog).

But progress is being made.  Back in February 2010 I reported on efforts (in my postion as a member of the Local Strategic Partnership Funding Management Group, despite efforts of the Tories to exclude me from this) to kick start the Skelmersdale station feasibility by using some underspend on the Single Programme Fund that Labour had originally brought to the area back in 2000.

These efforts were successful, and finally there is a draft report from a transport consultancy on the business feasibility of Skelmersdale rail station.  I’ve not seen the report yet, as Merseytravel have asked for some changes/additions before it is made public.  I’m told it will be available in the next couple of weeks and I’ll be reporting on it as soon as I see it.

However, I understand that it’s already been agreed on the basis of the draft that, further to this business feasibility, Network Rail will now intitate a GRIP 1 study.

This will seem a bit obscure, but getting the whole thing as far as Network Rails formal ‘Guidance on Rail Infrastructure Projects’ scheme is actually a significant step forward, and takes us into  ‘this may really happen’ territory.

The challenge from here is to keep up lobbying pressure on Network Rail to move on quickly with this stage of the scheme development, and I’ll be doing this directly and through the good offices of our MP Rosie, who will see this as a vital component in her overall efforts at the regeneration of Skelmersdale Town Centre.

As part of my lobbying, I’ll also be looking to ensure that this GRIP 1 study is also seen in the context of Merseytravel’s continuing plans for the station at Headbolt Lane, on the basis that the business case for each is strengthened by the fact that the whole line will benefit from increased use by users from both Skelmersdale and Kirkby.  This joined-up argument has not been sufficiently developed to date.

Of course, a huge boost for the potential for a line would be if the Council were to get its act together over concessionary rail travel, as this would provide the rail partners with more evidence of longterm viability, and the small amount of money invested in providing free travel would be paid back many times over through infrastructural development and consequent economic opportunities for the area.  Sadly, this holistic thinking about the economy is quite simply beyond our current Council, though I will continue to make the case.

I will continue to invest my own time in this lobbying work on the development of the Kirkby-Wigan line in the way set out above.   It can’t be stressed enough how important bringing rail to Skelmersdale is, especially given the plans to join up Wigan and Manchester via Chat Moss to create a 20 minute direct link between the towns.  

Shortening the Skelmersdale-Manchester travel time in this way (with appropriate interchange times at Wigan) will quite simply open up Skelmersdale to a new world of opportunity, both for people going from Skem to Manchester, but also people, business and money coming the other way.  Just think, the beauty of Tawd Valley could be enjoyed by the residents of Ardwick yet.

Of course, the Tories get none of this stuff.  Fortunately, Labour does.

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