Call for Lancashire County Council to help fund key Colne to Skipton railway study

Lancashire County Council should contribute towards the £330,000 cost of an essential assessment needed to keep alive the dream of reopening a railway link between Colne and Skipton.

That is the call from the leader of the opposition Labour group on the authority, Azhar Ali, who says that Lancashire risks being left behind if its connectivity is not improved.

In an email sent to County Hall’s Conservative leader Phillippa Williamson last month, County Cllr Ali claimed that the government has stated that it is “unwilling to pay for [an] engineering study” which is required to progress the project to reinstate the 12-mile stretch of track, which closed in 1970.

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He also cited the contents of a letter to Pendle MP Andrew Stephenson from transport minister Chris Heaton-Harris, which the Labour leader said “clearly puts the rail project at serious risk”.

Colne Station

In that letter, dated 6th December - a copy of which has been seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) - Mr Heaton-Harris said that the Department for Transport was engaged in a planning exercise to understand the implications for potential rail schemes of last year’s government spending review.

While he did not make reference to the engineering study, he did state that the department will have to “ensure best use of that settlement”, adding: “I can offer no assurance at this point that we will be able to prioritise further spending on development of the Skipton-Colne scheme at this time”.

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County Cllr Ali told the LDRS that he wanted to see Lancashire County Council step in and become a “partner” in meeting the costs of the engineering analysis.

“Cross-party, we need to fight for this infrastructure, [because otherwise] we’re not just going to be second class citizens, we’re going to be third class citizens.”

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In response to County Cllr Ali’s call, County Cllr Williamson said that the reopening of the Colne to Skipton line “remains one of our biggest priorities for improvements to rail in Lancashire - and we are continuing to press the case with government and the Department for Transport for the significant funding needed to make the scheme a reality”.

She added: "We are currently awaiting the conclusion of the government's spending review and the decision on updating the Strategic Outline Business Case (SOBC) for the Colne to Skipton line and accompanying engineering review.

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"In the meantime, to ensure the scheme can be progressed as quickly as possible to the next development stage, we are working hard to identify all potential opportunities to secure funding for these studies.

"We are already making good progress with the development of a number of rail priorities for Lancashire, particularly the design and planning for Cottam Parkway Station [in Preston] as part of the Transforming Cities Programme and the business case development and submission for the Skelmersdale Rail Link."

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Andrew Stephenson, himself a transport minister in the Conservative government, said that the administration is “investing record amounts in our railways and has allocated £500m to a Restoring Your Railways fund to reverse cuts made in the Beeching era”.

“Decisions on which schemes will be being taken forward will be made by the Rail Minister in due course,” Mr. Stephenson added.

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The reinstatement of the Colne to Skipton connection would reduce journey times between Colne and Leeds to 50 minutes by linking East Lancashire to the Airedale line.