IT HAS been an interesting last few weeks in the local media. No, not with the Gazette but the Fleetwood Weekly News (FWN). I had no idea of this until someone gave me a copy of the paper to read, and upon observing the letters page I discovered that a thermonuclear war of words has been taking place between Wyre Borough Councillor Don MacNaughton and Derek Squires, a Fleetwood resident whom I would describe as a Fleetwood nationalist.
The spat mainly concerns the reopening of the railway to Burn Naze (rather than to Fleetwood) and the role of the Poulton and Wyre Railway Society. Councillor MacNaughton claims there is a vision involving the reopening to Fleetwood, Derek contests this and questions the role of PWRS. Alas, the letters are not online so I have had to type them out in full. Sorry for the length, but I feel its right to view the full exchange in order to get a grip of the situation.
We kick off with the original article by PWRS in FWN about rail restoration.
Funding which could lead to an extra platform at a Fylde coast train station has been secured.
Lancashire County Council has promised to release £15,000 towards a grip survey, costing £30,000, which will assess the feasibility of a new line and platform at Poulton station.
It is part of plans for a railway line between Poulton and Fleetwood stopping at Carleton, Thornton and Burn Naze.
But proposals for the much anticipated line came to a halt while county councillors deliberated on whether the funding was available.
And despite Wyre Council pledging the other £15,000, the Poulton and Wyre Railway Society were forced to wait.
But this week it was announced funding for the “vital” survey will be released.
Coun Don MacNaughton, chairman of Wyre Council’s Rail Link Task Group, said: “It is vital frankly, we were at a hold until we could get that survey done.
“We can’t get the line into Poulton until it a feasibility study has been carried out.
“Another factor is the line through Poulton is going to be electrified and if we don’t have regard to that there could be physical alterations made to the line which would make it impossible or very expensive for us in the future.
“We know it is possible to have another line through Poulton, there used to be an Isle of Man platform taking people to the Isle of Man steamers.
“But this survey will make sure every box is ticked and will look at electrification and signalling.”
Coun MacNaughton said residents could expect to see a new platform from where a shuttle service to Burn Naze would run in the next two years.
He said: “Initially the railing stock may not be up to main line standards and Northern Rail will not even let rolling stock like that touch their own metal.
“So we will be looking at a local service with frequent stops along the way so a maximum number of people can benefit from it.
“Two years is probably the earliest we could expect to see any work at the station, but this is a huge step forward.
“I’m meeting with National Rail next week to hopefully find out when the survey will start.”
Resident Derek Squires responded to the article on March 28th, 2012.
Your recent article about restoring the rail link raises questions. The railway made Fleetwood and if it can be restored properly, will give it a much needed and deserved rebirth. The main question here is one of suitability.
Firstly: Are PWRS the right people to reopen a railway? And is there really an intention to reopen the line to Fleetwood? What about the bridge at Jameson road? No details about that have been mentioned. Surely it would cost millions to do so and without that being addressed, the railway will go nowhere. It will simply stop at Burn Naze which seems to be the current plan, in fact the ONLY plan. On another note, where would any future station in Fleetwood be situated? The old sites have been built upon; is there any suitable location near to the town centre? Or will the new station be so far out that a bus service be needed? It’s a pity that the station could not form an interchange with the new trams, or even better with the ferry terminal and docks as that would turn round Fleetwood’s fortunes forever.
I am of the opinion that Fleetwood will lose out if not enough influence is exerted in this process by Fleetwood councillors. It’s clear that PWRS want that line to go to Burn Naze and play trains, via a Heritage option whilst Fleetwood loses out.
Previous letters in the local press show that there’s justified opposition to and criticism of PWRS I find it insult to a town that once boasted 2 rail stations and a national connection that a group like this should be allowed control of such an important economic asset. Moreover, is it right and fair that Fleetwood ratepayers should pay towards a rail link that they will never benefit from, allowing PWRS to play “Heritage” trains at THEIR expense? The answer surely is: NO.
Don MacNaughton replied on 5th April, 2012.
A letter from Derek Squires published in your March 28th edition casts doubt on the intentions of the Poulton & Wyre Railway Society (PWRS). The letter was with regard to the reopening of the (currently) disused railway from Poulton to Fleetwood, and in particular their willingness to push the line northwards from Burn Naze to Fleetwood.
Let me assure him that Wyre Council’s Area Action Plan for the regeneration of the Thornton to Fleetwood corridor calls for the re-opening of the railway for both passengers and freight all the way through to Fleetwood. This remains and will remain our ultimate goal. It is a tragedy that Fleetwood has become the largest town in England without a railway, and we are keenly aware of the damage to Fleetwood caused by poor tarnsport links. To that end, Wyre Council intends to take ownership and control of the line and whilst working in partnership with other stakeholders (including the PWRS) will oversee the phased re-opning of the railway along its full length.
The intial phase will be a “shuttle service” from Burn Naze to Poulton because the existing track is in good condition but we have no intention of stopping there. We do not underestimate the engineering (and funding) problems involved but these will be addressed and the railway will return to Fleetwood.
Derek’s reply came a week later:
Thank you to Don MacNaughton for replying to my letter (FWN April 5th). Unfortunately it doesn’t quite deal with the core issue of control and it neglects to mention the principal stakeholder in this affair: the people of Fleetwood.
Regrettably, it does refer to one stakeholder: PWRS. The core issue of my letter referred to the role of PWRS in the reopening of the railway. Don himself, as well as other former PWRS members, have levelled serious criticism of PWRS objectives for a heritage operation which is in conflict with public wants and needs: a commuter operation. An already discredited PWRS have a clapped out old shunter, a wreck of a carriage and a few scraps of railway memorabilia. PWRS will be relying exclusively on taxpayers money for their purposes.
Consider this, the line reopens to Burn Naze; it will almost certainly run at a loss, compared to a Fleetwood connection, as the demand would not be there to make it sustainable. What then? Running at a loss makes it harder to acquire further investment to complete it to Fleetwood, which will require many millions more. Outcome? Game set and match to PWRS. The line remains at Burn Naze and they gain control.
Can Don McNaughton give a guarantee, a legal and financial framework that the line will never fall into the hands of PWRS? Will he come off the ‘PWRS picket fence’ and state categorically that the commuter option is the only way forward and PWRS will never have control of that line? If he can’t, then the people of Fleetwood have every right to be concerned as PWRS are only one step from gaining control, which surely means the people of Fleetwood can look forward to many more years of council created congestion whilst PWRS play trains at their expense.
Don replied on the 18th April, 2012
Derek Squires’ letter published in your April 11th issue raises further “concerns” about the (currently) disused Flleetwood Railway, despite my letter (published a week eralier) which gave assurances about the Wyre Council’s intention to re-open the line all the way to Fleetwood.
Instead, he suggests with no evidence that an intial shuttle-service from Burn Naze to Poulton would run at a loss, and this would somehow make it more difficult to re-open the rest of the route to Fleetwood, leaving the line in the hands of the PWRS, who he thinks are only interested in a Heritage operation.
As I have said before, running one or two steam engines up and down a mile or so of isolated track is not going to regenerate Fleetwood. The council’s vision far surpasses a small scale train set and I would (again) draw his attention to the Area Action Plan for the Thornton-Fleetwood corridor and indeed to the Council’s Core Strategy – currently out for public consultation – which specifically mention the railway from Poulton to Fleetwood and our intention to re-open the line. I realise thet Mr Squires is following a political agenda which calls for him to bash Wyre council at every opportunity, so he will choose not to accept my assurances, but I trust that the fair-minded majority of your readers will do so.
Personally I think Don is a good bloke; hes one of the few councillors to recognise the transport problems but on this occasion he’s come unstuck. He’s failed to give a much needed assurance on the role of PWRS whom he and many others have criticised in the past. Such an assurance would have helped remove the uncertainty surrounding rail reinstatement. Yes there is a vision but NO specific plan (unless someone has one, in which case please can they provide it?) He may be right that no evidence has been supplied to say that the line to Burn Naze wouldn’t be profitable but he hasnt provided any evidence to say that it would be profitable either.
Consider this nightmare scenario to which Derek Squires refers. As part of the electrification process the link will be severed at Poulton. Money will have to be raised to reinstate that link and in addition it’s very hard to see how a rail service from Burn Naze would be profitable since it is an industrial estate: where would the demand for such a railway come from? Again, I have seen no facts and figures, so if anyone has them please feel free to provide them.
The result is that the money dries up or cant been made available (due to the line not being profitable, public funding issues, etc) and the line then falls into the hands of PWRS who pay a lease to use it. This would be a MASSIVE disaster. Cllr Don’s failure to provide an assurance or guarantee that such situation wont happen due to WBC’s commitment to a commuter option is very telling and worrying. Instead he has a go at Mr Squires, accusing him of following a political agenda!? Is this Mr Squires a Labour or town councillor? I cant find anybody of that name. Don avoids what is being asked of him, the role of PWRS in all of this affair and contol of the line in the event it stays at Burn Naze.
Don talks of ultimate goals and visions, of reinstatement to Fleetwood but how many years or decades is that? Meanwhile PWRS get the line for their heritage use, so is that fair to taxpayers? These are the issues Derek talks of and I agree with him.
I have no doubt PWRS would love to get that line for their use but that cannot be alllowed to happen as it is not in the public interest, especially as they have very little in the means to run a rail service. This has been said many many times before.
The Area Action Plan Don talks about was not welcomed by the public at all and was rejected by the Thornton Action Group (TAG), (in fact they gave it a vote of no confidence), as being ‘not sound’. Despite mass housing being built, and a huge new supermarket on the way, there have been no road improvements at all: nothing on the local road junctions or the A585. The bottom line is that when it comes to planning, people dont trust WBC planners and its easy to see why; they just build houses and pocket the New Homes Bonus without dealing with the impacts on the local infrastructure (which is what the New Homes Bonus is for). Worse still, councillors just sit back and rubber stamp planning decisions, no protests or questions asked. They pay lip service and ignore. The area is becoming saturated with cars and now that Fleetwood town has gone into the Football League there will be even heavier traffic: all the more reason as to why the line must be opened to Fleetwood and NOW as the demand is there.
We await another reply to Dons letter or indeed further public comments on the issue. This issue wont go away and people in Fleetwood will be asking why they cant have a railway given that their need is so great. The role of PWRS, who have already been slated for wanting their heritage option, will also be questioned. We shall have to wait and see but as no time frame has been mentioned, or specific plans being provided, I wouldn’t expect any reopening to happen for quite a few years.
I honestly think that PWRS are the fly in the ointment (as do may others) and that has to be sorted out by a council statement saying that under no circumstances would they ever allow PWRS to take control. It would allay fears. But rest assured by the time the railway is re-opened, there will already be many more houses by then and many more cars, and thats no good at all.