Challenge election candidates on rail line views
Sir, Transport is a big issue in Cumbria but the county council is not keeping up. Candidates for council seats have to earn votes this month, so here is a challenge for them.
The county council’s local transport plan (LTP) should describe all the county’s transport needs, how they can be provided and by whom.
National government reads the LTP as a statement of what the county needs in total. Unfortunately in recent years the Cumbria LTP has listed only the county council’s own projects.
The Keswick to Penrith railway project has been studiously avoided by the county council for more than a decade, despite having a design package ready, environmental impact assessments done and a business case proved.
This project was listed in the first edition of the LTP many years ago, but dropped later — why? CKP Railways plc (CKP), which developed the railway project, is not asking Cumbria County Council to pay for the railway or to manage it. CKP and its partners have the knowledge and skills to finish the job. Potential private funders exist but need political certainty that the project can go ahead. Independent, private, funding like this would not divert money from vital needs such as health or education.
National government is the body to authorise construction of the railway, but only if it is shown as a local need listed in the LTP. All the county council has to do to allow the Keswick to Penrith railway to proceed is to write supportive policies, vote them into force, publish them, sit back and wait.
The Lake District National Park Authority has protected the route and included the railway in core policies. MPs at both ends of the route have shown interest. Now the county council must speak up.
Cumbria County Council helped found Rail North, a consortium of nearly 30 local authorities guiding railway development across the north of England. Rail North knows about the CKP project (apparently it considers it a “no brainer”) but cannot help until Cumbria County Council endorses it.
Hundreds of Cumbrians invested hundreds of thousands of pounds in the design and development of the railway through CKP. They also pay council tax, business rates and other taxes which fund the county council.
By ignoring CKP, the council is also using supporters’ money to delay the Keswick to Penrith railway project. Cumbria County Council cannot do everything. It must become an “enabler” and let others do good work for the county.
So, please, challenge the candidates — why do they oppose a railway which would bring economic, social and environmental benefits to the North Lakes, Penrith and Eden, new east-west train services to Cumbria and improve connections to the Cumbrian coast? Yours etc,