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Tuesday 30 March 2010

All Change At Crewe

– Music Mogul and Business ‘Big Hitters’ back ambitious regeneration plans

A major revamp of Crewe train station is at the heart of ambitious plans to transform Crewe into one of the UK’s leading economic powerhouses by 2030.

And the move has even got the vote of TV’s Eurovision pop guru Pete Waterman.

A major redevelopment of the rail station – which is staying put – and the town centre are central to a new scheme to rejuvenate the town and wider region – and catapult them to the forefront of the 21st century economy.

Music mogul and trains enthusiast Pete Waterman, Virgin Trains, Network Rail and rail engineering giant Bombardier are among the ‘movers and shakers’ who have backed the station announcement.

Crewe’s MP Edward Timpson has also called for the whole community and all political parties to get behind the proposals.

Record producer and Eurovision: Your Country Needs You star Pete Waterman said: “Now the decision has been made so far as the station is concerned, we can all get on with the job of making this work.

“The uncertainty of the last two years has been most unhelpful, but now we can all pull in one direction and get behind getting the best out of this classic station.”

The redevelopment of Crewe station will be one of a number of high-profile ambitious projects planned for the town over the next 20 years.

The proposals, due to be completed shortly, are the result of six months of work led by Cheshire East Council and the Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA) involving leading agencies, organisations and employers in the area, in partnership with top consultants SQW.

This new vision for Crewe builds on the tremendous competitive advantage of the town’s central location and fantastic road and rail links.

Cheshire East Council Leader Wesley Fitzgerald said: “We are now at the critical point of setting out not just our vision for Crewe, but how we are going to get there.

“Crewe rail station was at the centre of the town’s identity, growth and prosperity in the 19th century. Now it is at the heart of plans to transform Crewe to help its growth to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

“We need to get the key agencies firmly behind this project to ensure it has the resources, focus and energy to bring about real change. It’s vital that we come together to identify what needs to be done over the next 20 years – but starting NOW.”

Cheshire East received an additional boost last week, with a government funding announcement that saw Crewe move a step closer to benefiting from a £36m link road that would cut congestion and boost economic regeneration in the area.

Transport Secretary Andrew Adonis announced that £21.99m has been provisionally agreed for Crewe Green Link Road South.

Cheshire East Council, which has worked hard to secure funding, and other supporters of the scheme said the move was vital to opening up the regeneration potential of the Basford east investment site and the wider Crewe region.

NWDA chief executive Steven Broomhead said of today’s announcement: “The decision over Crewe train station is a big step forward – plans for future development can begin to move forward and Crewe can maximise the opportunities of its excellent infrastructure.

“Partners must now work together on a single vision for Crewe which will deliver real change.”

Cheshire East Council has called on the Government, the rail industry, regional agencies and top ‘movers and shakers’ to pledge their support for these major projects – especially to ensure that the station becomes a gateway to both the north and south.

The station proposal follows a recent announcement by Lord Adonis that £50m would be made available to invest in 10 stations in real need of some serious TLC – one of which was identified as Crewe, which has unrivalled rail connections and excellent north-south links.

Crewe received another massive boost with the recent government announcement (March 17) that it is to create a £3m National Skills Academy for Rail Engineering. It is hoped this will be based in Crewe, following high-level lobbying by the Cheshire and Warrington Economic Alliance.

Cheshire East councillor Jamie Macrae, Cabinet member with responsibility for prosperity, said of the ambitious new proposals for Crewe: “This work is vital. We must capture any opportunity to make it happen. We must continue to work together to ensure Crewe has an integral role in the future of the region.

“We’ve done more in the past six months to help achieve this than has been done by previous authorities in the past six years.

“We will now be lobbying nationally to attract additional funding and interest in the redevelopment of Crewe railway station, which after extensive consultation, we now believe should remain at its current location.”

Chris Gibb, chief operating officer at Virgin Trains: “Crewe is a key part of the Virgin Trains network and we have been delighted with the growth in customer numbers using the service in Cheshire in recent years.

"Now we also need to move to another level of customer service at the station and today's announcement is a clear sign of the vision that is required to attract more customers to rail.”

It is hoped the recent HS2 announcement of plans to build a new High Speed Rail link from London to Birmingham from 2017, and then on to Manchester, will benefit Crewe and the Cheshire East region. Supporters say it would free up train and freight capacity and raise the possibility of increased rail engineering and maintenance work for Crewe.

Councillor Fitzgerald added: "We want to build Crewe’s economy to be fit for purpose for the 21st century. To do this we need support from the Government to develop a new station which is fit for modern world and the future – a station that can take advantage of future opportunities provided through developments, such as high speed rail beyond Birmingham.”

Crewe and Nantwich MP Edward Timpson has appealed for cross-party support to help make the redevelopment scheme a success.

He said: “Following last year's announcements that Crewe station was receiving no redevelopment funding from central government until at least 2014, and that the developers of Crewe town centre had fallen victim to the recession, it was essential that the new Cheshire East authority moved quickly to come up with a credible plan for the town's economic future.

"The station is a key part of that. It is now time for all of us who care passionately about Crewe to drive forward these ambitious plans together. I will do all that I can to make that happen."

Attracting more educated, skilled and ambitious workers to Crewe would boost the economy and see the town as a nationally recognised centre of dynamic economic growth and vitality by 2030.

Substantial investment will be required to create the 21st century transport hub that is necessary to underpin Crewe’s aspirations for growth.

Cheshire East is seeking both public and private sector partners to fund and deliver the project.

Network Rail and Global rail engineering firm Bombardier Transportation, which has a major plant in Crewe, have thrown their weight behind the ‘exciting’ proposals for the station.

Bombardier Transportation UK chairman Colin S Walton said: “As a major employer in Crewe, Bombardier is pleased to be able to offer its expertise and support to this exciting plan to transform the town.

“Crewe's current image is that of a historic railway town, which is important. However, we now need to be able to demonstrate that Crewe is much more than that.

“Crewe is modern, hi-tech and innovative and ready for all the challenges of the 21st century. Key to this plan is the development of the railway station, providing a modern and attractive gateway to the town"

Network Rail route director Jo Kaye said: “We are fully committed to the principle of the regeneration of the station.

“In recent years Network Rail has invested over £7m in improvements, which have included a new roof canopy, platform resurfacing and refurbished office accommodation on platform 12, new and improved lighting on all platforms, repairs and repainting of sections of the roof structure and the complete renewal of the station’s water mains and fire alarm system.”

Current funding available to Crewe, following the announcement by Lord Adonis of £50m for 10 stations, will enable limited refurbishment work but is only a small part of the investment required. However, a new transport hub could be delivered for something in the region of only 10-15 per cent of the recently announced £530m Northern Rail Hub proposals.

An independent report called Better Rail Stations, by the Station Champions Chris Green and Sir Peter Hall, advised the Government on ways to improve stations, focussing on getting their basic facilities right as well as considering the broader role they could play in the future.

The report said the “passenger’s first priority is clearly the journey itself” – but a smart, modern station is an important element which can “make or break” the public transport experience.

The study found that only two thirds of customers are satisfied with Britain’s stations. This is a mediocre result, and the authors said “a demanding service industry should be seeking to lift this to at least an overall satisfaction level of 80 per cent”.

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