by Henry James (July 2022)

PLANS to build a railway station in Skelmersdale have been rejected by the government in what MP Rosie Cooper called as a ‘betrayal’ of the town.

The government has said proposals for a new station and branch line into the town won’t be considered for the next stage of development.

The West Lancashire MP said she was “disgusted” by the decision as the Conservatives used it as an example of ‘levelling up rail transport in the UK’ during the 2019 election campaign.

She added that she would “not give up the fight” to revive the plan.

The plans would have seen two direct trains to and from Liverpool per hour as well as improved links with Manchester and Preston.

Skelmersdale’s original railway station closed to passengers in 1956.

A Strategic Outline Business Case was submitted by the county council to the Department for Transport last year. The county council said work will continue to bring other transport improvements to the town, despite this setback.

The plans would have created new rail infrastructure and a new station in the heart of the town.

The government has now suggested focussing on the existing Kirkby-Wigan rail line could improve connections to the town. These would require less infrastructure work and at a lower cost.

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The DfT said it will now engage with the county council and the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority to look into these options in more detail.

Other options being looked at include a bus link between Skelmersdale and the planned new railway station at Headbolt Lane in Kirkby, which has featured within the county council's recently submitted Bus Service Improvement Plan.

Ms Cooper said: “I am disgusted by the decision of the Department for Transport not to pursue the proposal for Skelmersdale Railway, rejecting Lancashire County Council's business case that would have been revolutionary for the town.

“During the 2019 election, the Tories repeatedly used Skelmersdale as an example of how they will be ‘levelling up’ rail transport. Not just locally, but even on their national campaign website!

“To now completely turn their backs on Skelmersdale residents, is a cruel joke, a betrayal.

“It is insulting that the Government now suggest we should pursue improving the buses instead, at the same time as the Liverpool City Region are consulting on reducing the bus service to Liverpool to once an hour! Skelmersdale is one of the largest towns without a train station, why are we being neglected and ignored? Why is our station less important?

“Replacing the Skelmersdale Rail plan with a shuttle bus is simply not good enough.

“We are constantly hearing about rail improvements down south; we should be treated equally - levelled up even!

“I will not be giving up this fight and I will hold the Government and Department for Transport to account for this betrayal.

“The Transport Secretary and Rail Minister should come and see Skelmersdale themselves and I am offering them an open invitation to visit, the sooner the better.

“This is not the end, and we will keep fighting for a train station to finally be returned to Skelmersdale.”

The SOBC was developed by Lancashire County Council, working in partnership with organisations including Merseytravel, Network Rail and West Lancashire Borough Council.

County Councillor Charlie Edwards, cabinet member for highways and transport, said: “I know local people will be disappointed at this but we’ll continue working hard to explore other options for public transport improvements.

Councillor Yvonne Gagen, leader of West Lancashire Borough Council, added: "We are incredibly disappointed at the decision and this will be a bitter blow to the people of Skelmersdale who will undoubtedly feel they have been let down by the Government's decision.

“A rail link would have created significant opportunities for them to connect with the wider region and to take advantage of all the subsequent increased investment and regeneration opportunities that would bring.

“We welcome the DfT's acknowledgement of the need to invest in public transport connectivity in Skelmersdale. However, we feel strongly that a rail link would have been the best and most effective way to achieve this, and we will continue to fight for the decision to be reversed.

“Given Government funding for rail investment is over-subscribed with a high level of competition, a change in decision is highly unlikely.

“Despite this setback, we can assure the people of Skelmersdale that we will continue to work tirelessly to explore and forge ahead with improvement plans, which we hope will include a rail link, that offer residents the significantly improved connectivity and sustainable transport solutions they deserve.”

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