Local authorities to be given final say on projects such as Midge Hall reopening

Posted on - 22nd April, 2024 - 8:00am | Author - | Posted in - Leyland, Preston News, South Ribble Locations, South Ribble News, Transport
Midge Hall station
Midge Hall station

A government transport minister has said it is up to local authorities to decide whether projects like reopening Midge Hall station near Leyland are the best way to spend the cash windfall they will receive in the wake of the cancellation of the northern leg of HS2.

Huw Merriman was speaking in the Commons in response to a debate secured by South Ribble MP Katherine Fletcher on the subject of reinstating the defunct boarding point, which closed more than 60 years ago.

His comments came just over 24 hours after a Lancashire County Council meeting heard the authority was still awaiting guidance about the type of projects that will be eligible for finance under the Local Transport Fund (LTF).

Read more: Preston roads won’t benefit from HS2 northern leg being scrapped

It emerged earlier this year that the county council area is in line for £494m from that pot – more than any of the 27 local authorities across the North and Midlands that have been allocated shares from the fund, which will be delivered between 2025 and 2032.

The cash is intended to reduce congestion and improve public transport in smaller cities, towns and rural areas.

In a parliamentary debate on Wednesday, Mr. Merriman said the government would “shortly publish advice for local authorities to help them make the most of this opportunity”.

However, he stressed that when it came to specific projects like reopening Midge Hall – along with removing the buffers on the line at Ormskirk, which was also being promoted by Ms. Fletcher – it would be for County Hall to determine whether the schemes were “prioritised for investment”.

The minister said he was happy to “help sell the case” that had been made for the two schemes, as well as another vision outlined during the discussion – the reopening of the so-called ‘Burscough Curves’ in order to reconnect the Southport-to-Manchester railway line with the track running between Preston and Ormskirk.

Asked directly by Ms. Fletcher about whether he would consider carrying out a “feasibility study” into bringing Midge Hall back into use, Mr. Merriman said the new fund could be used to finance such business cases.

On Tuesday, at a meeting of Lancashire County Council’s scrutiny management board, the authority’s lead member for highways and active travel, Scott Smith, said that until the promised guidance on the LTF had been received, it would be “silly to try and progress things that may ultimately not be able to be progressed”.

He was answering a question from committee member – and Burnley Central West division representative – Scott Cunliffe who had sought “clarity” for residents about the type of projects that might be delivered via the fund.

What’s the big idea?

Although Midge Hall station closed in the early 1960s, trains still stop there as they pass through.  That is because the line is a single track at that point, so – as a safety measure – the driver has to exchange a token at Midge Hall, then travel through to Rufford and hand the token back.

Katherine Fletcher told the Commons debate the situation meant passengers ”can see a platform, but cannot get on or off”.

She said that housing development, including on the former Leyland Test Track, would ultimately lead to another 2,000 people living “within a very short walk of Midge Hall station”.

Ms. Fletcher added that the removal of the buffers at Ormskirk – together with the reopening of Midge Hall – would enable the Preston-to-Liverpool train service via Rufford to “zing even more”.

“Anybody using the line from stations in my patch—from Croston or Rufford, for example — who wants to go to Liverpool gets the train to Ormskirk, stops, gets out, toddles down the platform, past the set of buffers, waits for the Merseyrail train to come, then gets on that and continues their journey to Liverpool,” she explained.

She said the buffers were “purely administrative” to demarcate boundaries between Merseyrail and Northern Rail territory.

Ms. Fletcher added that the advent of battery-powered trains helped solve what would previously have been the “expensive” problem of running trains directly from Liverpool to Preston via the line in question, because of the issue of supplying the necessary electricity to the rolling stock.

Mr. Merriman appeared to agree with the premise, noting that battery technology was already being deployed in the Merseyrail area.

However, he stressed that “the matter of further extension of the Merseyrail services, either over the Burscough Curves or from Ormskirk towards Preston, is a local one”.

“Merseyrail is a devolved concession, with key strategic decisions made at a local level by Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, “ Mr. Merriman added.

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