North West towns and cities including Preston, Southport and Ormskirk could soon be connected by rail thanks to a growing cross-party campaign by local MPs, council leaders and business leaders.
They have submitted a business case to the Government to restore the Burscough Curves, which were axed during the infamous Beeching Cuts during the 1960s.
Before the Beeching Cuts, the Ormskirk and Preston, and Southport and Manchester lines were joined at Burscough, enabling direct travel between Ormskirk and Southport, and Southport and Preston.
Now Southport Conservative MP Damien Moore, West Lancashire Labour MP Rosie Cooper, South Ribble Conservative MP Katherine Fletcher, Preston Labour MP Sir Mark Kendrick, Lancashire County Council Leader Geoff Driver and others are campaigning to recreate a relatively low cost rail project that would restore flexibility for passengers and add valuable options to direct travel across West Lancashire.
And they are calling for unity after Sefton Council Liberal Democrat Leader Cllr John Pugh claimed that “the odds currently are not in our favour”.
Southport Conservative MP Damien Moore strongly disagrees, saying: “We’re working hard to secure funding and ensure the restoration of the Burscough Curves to connect Southport, Preston, Ormskirk and other towns and cities in the North West.
“We have a very strong team of regional MPs and council leaders together backing this project, and I really believe we can get something done.
“This is a real cross-party effort and we need unity of spirit and unity of purpose.
“I work very well with Rosie Cooper MP, Katherine Fletcher MP, Sir Mark Henrick MP, Cllr Geoff Driver, and many others. We have assembled a really good team to get behind this.
“We have all been pushing this scheme with Ministers and with Civil Servants in the Department For Transport.
“We have also enjoyed great support from the Ormskirk Preston and Southport Travellers’ Association.
“Together we have put together and submitted a very strong business case which I am confident will tick all of the boxes in terms of the viability of the scheme, its environmental impact and much more besides.
“Restoring the Burscough Curves will dramatically improve rail connections not just between places such as Southport, Preston and Ormskirk but further beyond, up to Scotland, further strengthening links with the Union.
“Southport is well known for its outstanding events. We host a brilliant Southport Flower Show, Southport Air Show, Southport Comedy Festival, Southport Food and Drink Festival, as well as having great attractions such as Southport Pleasureland, The Atkinson, Southport and Ainsdale beaches, and Southport Pier.
“We now need to ensure that we have the ability to be able to bring more people into Southport.
“We have to assert ourselves to become the premier North West coastal resort. Southport businesses can then do what they do best, which is to wow visitors when they arrive.
“We have got a very positive agenda. I am not saying this is going to be easy, but we are all determined that this will happen.
“We have an opportunity to restore the Burscough Curves thanks to this Government. They have said that mistakes were made through the Beeching cuts. They are now willing to look at restoring some of the services which were lost back then.
“Thanks to our business case and our campaigning with Ministers and civil servants, the Burscough Curves scheme is under consideration. They know very clearly what we want.
“We have got four MPs, Lancashire County Council, local politicians and business leaders, all aligned on this, all of them seeing the benefits for their respective areas and for our region as a whole. We all see the advantages.
“If you look at the road between Preston and Southport, it is congested. If we can take a large proportion of those people and make rail travel available, we can make our town more accessible.
“We are all working in partnership to achieve a common goal which will benefit everyone in our region, and we need unity in order to achieve it.
“I’m not sure Cllr Pugh understands the extent to which this business case has been developed, or how close we are to securing investment from Government. This is the closest we have been to restoring the Burscough Curves.”
West Lancashire MP Rosie Cooper said: “Reinstating the Burscough Curves would transform rail travel across West Lancashire providing new links for rural communities like Scarisbrick as well as Burscough itself.
“Following the sizeable increase in housing in Burscough, re-connecting the Preston to Ormskirk branch with the Merseyrail network at Ormskirk will increase the attractiveness of rail for commuters into Liverpool, reducing the need to travel on the heavily congested A59.
“More frequent services to Preston will do likewise and benefit commuters from Ormskirk and Aughton also.
“It is disappointing to hear the views of the former Southport MP, which in itself may have caused damage to the prospects of the scheme, something Damien and I along with others are now actively working to repair.
“With the introduction of new Kirkby and Wigan to Skelmersdale lines, rail connectivity in the region has a promising future.”
The Burscough Curves campaigners have put together their business case with the support of the Ormskirk, Preston and Southport Travellers Association.
The opportunity to improve service has come after the Government launched a new £500 million Government Beeching Reversal Fund this year that will allow the restoration of some of the lines which were axed in the 1960s.
The initiative aims to connect long isolated communities that will benefit from better rail connections and boost access to jobs and education.
The Beeching cuts were proposed by British Rail chief Dr Richard Beeching in 1963 and ended passenger services on around a third of the rail network.
The Cuts closed more than 2,300 railway stations and up to 5,000 miles of track across the UK. The Burscough Curves – a district line between Southport and Ormskirk, and Southport and Preston through Burscough - was one such line, however the formation still remains.
Campaigners behind the scheme are now calling for unity after Sefton Council Liberal Democrat Leader Cllr John Pugh, who was Southport MP between 2001 to 2017, said that “the next few months may well determine whether the restoration of the Burscough Curves becomes a reality or remains on an eternal wish list”.
He added: “The creation of a £500million government fund to reverse Beeching Cuts is the latest and perhaps the last hope. The odds currently though are not in our favour and no-one in the rail industry is holding their breath on this one.
“My concern is that those new to the idea don’t appreciate the obstacles that will be put in our way or even what needs doing.”
The current MPs campaigning for the Burscough Curves to be reopened believe they have built a very strong case in the scheme’s favour.
South Ribble Conservative MP Katherine Fletcher said: “Isn’t it crazy that the stations in South Ribble don’t connect to Southport with a direct train.
“This is arcane. It means for both our communities it’s harder to enjoy an evening out or get to a new job without traffic. Reinstating the curves fixes that and much more.
“I would call on the Sefton Council Lib Dem Leader to stop sniping and join our cross party campaign.
“From my time with the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, I know the biggest threat to Government investment up here are partisan politicians, not speaking with the same voice.
“Let’s work together for the communities we are proud to serve.”
Lancashire County Council Leader Cllr Geoff Driver highlighted the “immense experience” behind the current campaign.
He said: “Of course at Lancashire County Council we understand and recognise the steps we have to go through and the hurdles we have to overcome to see the Burscough Curves reopening become a reality.
“Lancashire County Council officers have immense experience in dealing with such matters and, with the greatest respect, it is a bit rich on the part of Councillor Pugh to belittle the sterling work being done by the County and District councils as well as the cross party support from local MPs, when he failed to bring this venture to fruition when he was an MP.”
Sefton Conservative Group Leader Tony Brough said: “The reintroduction of the Burscough Curves would be expedient use of the available Government funding and provide Southport with a direct link to ‘main line services’. The proposal has merit and fits the criteria outlined in the Government’s offer.
“I fully support Damien Moore and other MPs in our region in their efforts to raise the reinstatement of the Burscough Curve railway link to the attention of the Department for Transport.”
Southport Dukes Ward Conservative councillor Sir Ron Watson said: “There has been a growing recognition over the point that many of us have made for a considerable period of time that as a seaside resort and what is quite a unique retail environment the maximum degree of access to Southport is critical.
“Whilst we are very well served with the train services by Merseytravel south towards Liverpool, dealing with the Burscough Curves situation is critical to establishing much better links going north.
“Whilst it is many years since we have had the level of access that many of us have called for the Government’s initiative in re-establishing certain lines that were in existence has been warmly welcomed here in Southport.
“We have appreciated the emphasis given to this potential reinstatement as a project because it is literally ‘ready to go’ and won’t require anything like the amount of time, effort, consultation, to say nothing of cost that would be involved in a range of other schemes that other authorities have been trying to put forward.
“Southport’s former MP was not able to make, at either a local or national level in Parliament, any progress at all in ensuring that the Burscough Curves moved right up the agenda but the opportunity does now exist to make progress despite what many would have to regard as his decided lack of success.”