LATEST NEWS: The North East Joint Transport Committee is made up of Councillors from Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, and Durham. They have recently produced a draft of a plan for the whole of their area that covers the period to 2035. The plan covers all roads, buses, ferries and rail transport but this website is particularly interested in the sections on rail. The important news is that the plan includes a new station at Gilsland. The proposal is contained in a section headed “Schemes for development and delivery in the next ten years” with a note attached saying that delivery of the schemes in this section can commence at short notice. Whilst it is important to note that the money for the new station has not yet been identified it has to be good news that the project now has regional backing.
Gilsland station was originally opened on 19 July 1836 when it was known as "Rose Hill". It was renamed "Gilsland" on 1 May 1869 and, after having been proposed for closure in the Beeching Report, closed to passengers on 2 January 1967. Goods facilities were withdrawn on 5 April 1965.
The Campaign to Open Gilsland Station (COGS) want to re-open the station and point to the considerable benefits to both local people and visitors. The potential for the station's reopening was assessed in 2001 and in 2005 in the Tyne Valley Route Strategy. Unfortunately, neither study found that there was a case for reopening. Crucially, and fatally to the conclusions then reached, potential demand was assessed only in relation to the local population and not with regard to possible visitors to Hadrian's Wall. This is important because Hadrian’s wall is now actively promoted as a tourist destination and the area around Gilsland includes many local attractions. A revived station would offer easy car free access to these attractions, to the Hadrian’s Wall National Trail and to the local sections of the cycle route that runs the full length of the wall.
In May 2013 the Tyne Valley Rail Users Group asked JMP Consultants to assess the potential for the reopening of the station to provide access to Hadrian’s Wall. The report was published in August 2013 and concluded that there is an economic case for reopening the station if spending by additional visitors to the area is taken into account.
In summary the report said:
- The demand for the station is estimated at 25,000 trips a year: 10,000 by local people and 15,000 by tourists, 10,000 of which would have come because of the rail access.
- Two 50m platforms with shelters, access ramps, lighting and pedestrian access under the railway bridge would be needed. Such a station could be built on the site but there might be land ownership issues.
- The estimated cost is £1.8M but, taking into account uncertainties in making predictions and eventualities during construction, £2.5M should be budgeted.
- The station is estimated to provide a benefit to the local population of £1.78 for every £1 of cost. This is regarded as a "medium value for money" and the Department of Transport will normally only consider funding schemes that represent high value for money.
- The additional visitors expected are, however, likely to spend £300,000 per year in the area bringing the benefit to £3.89 per £1 of cost – regarded as "high value for money"
A new station would, they said, help to regenerate the local community and promote of tourism along Hadrian’s Wall & Tyne Valley walking and cycle routes.
The local MP (Guy Opperman) is supportive of the scheme but points out, on his blog, that there is a need to bolster the business case and suggests that there are four critical factors:
- Gilsland as a hub where the Hadrian’s Wall Walk and the Pennine Way meet.
- The growth in the numbers of people cycling in the area
- The impact of the Sill Project and the promotion of heritage assets that are close by the station site.
- The potential to support business and regeneration of the area of West Northumberland and East Cumbria that has clearly struggled under successive governments for generations.
In August 2018 Tyne Valley Community Rail Partnership (TVCRP) and the Campaign to Open Gilsland Station (COGS) met with the Rail Director for Transport for the North (TfN). TfN have advised that Strategic Outline Business Case (SOBC) will be needed followed by an Outline Business Case (OBC). Assuming that the results of these studies are positive either Northumberland County Council or Rail North will need to take on the project and do a full business case. COGS and TVCRP already have a report from consultants Steer Davis Gleave on the economic viability of the station and have asked them how much is needed to turn the economic case study into an SOBC and OBC. The estimate for the SOBC is £30,000 and for the OBC around £360,000.
This will be followed by the work to complete GRIP4 - a key part of the Network Rail system for managing projects. Once this is complete a best option has been selected and outline designs produced. NCC suggest that this might cost between £450 - 50k before any work on the ground can start.
In March 2019 the ‘News and Star’ paper, quoted Dan Newrick, the treasurer of the Campaign to Open Gilsland and also Chair of Upper Denton Parish Council, as saying that the cost of generating a strategic business case, had led to an “impasse”. The article also quoted Cumbria Council as saying that there are many proposed projects that local communities and organisations would like to see delivered as part of the Borderlands Inclusive Growth Deal.
The costs of the actual work on the ground
The Hexham Courant reported on 25th January 2019 that the station could re-open for between £4.5m and £7m – with the latter figure providing a permanent station, despite an earlier estimated cost, from Network Rail, of £28m. We also have the suggestion from JMP (above) that a £2.5m should be sufficient. So, what accounts for the difference between these figures? Network Rail argues that number of costly changes would be necessary to level crossings and associated signalling in the area as a direct result of the opening of the station - so taking the total cost to £28m. COGS commissioned a professional analysis of the station re-opening proposal with special reference to the wider infrastructure changes proposed by Network Rail. This analysis concluded that most of the Network Rail proposals were not directly linked to the station re-opening, and so should not be part of the station budget. In short, the station could be re-opened without costs being incurred on the scale that Network Rail proposed.
The Borderlands Growth Deal
Northumberland County Council has indicated that the scheme could benefit from the Borderlands Growth Deal, set up by the Government to promote economic opportunities on both sides of the English-Scottish Border, and that the re-opening of Gilsland station has already been highlighted as a potential scheme which both Northumberland County Council and Carlisle City Council support. So, what is the Borderlands Growth Deal? The Growth Deal is a £350m Government fund available for projects that will fund economic growth on both sides of the border, and this £350m will be supplemented by a further a £44.5m from local authorities. Geoff Paul, director of planning and economy at Northumberland County Council reported to the Cabinet (January 9th 2018) that between £450,000 to £750,000 will be required to progress to the detailed design stage (GRIP 4) of the process. The report says that “unless external funding can be secured, possibly through a Borderlands Growth Deal, it is likely that responsibility for funding scheme development will fall on Northumberland County Council”. In July 2019 the two governments and 5 local authorities published a Head of Terms Agreement. The only explicit reference to rail projects is £10m to consider the potential to extend the Borders Railway from Carlisle to Tweedbank. However not all might not be lost because under the heading ‘Improving Places’ there is a section called ‘Destination Borderlands’ which includes the following sub-project: “Hadrian’s Wall and the wider Roman Frontier that will invest in routes, infrastructure and visitor attractions to attract new audiences and greater visitor spend the length of the wall.”
In September 2019 'Go Gilsland' and the Tyne Valley Community Rail Partnership announced a new service that aims to connect the people of Gilsland, and visitors, to local railway stations and bus services. A hybrid electric car with the capacity to carry 4 passengers and their luggage has been purchased and volunteer drivers trained for this ‘on demand’ service.
Restoring Your Railway Fund
On 2nd June 2020 the Hexham Courant reported that Transport Minister Chris Heaton-Harris has written to Hexham’s MP, Guy Opperman, to say officials would be working with local representatives in the coming weeks to move Northumberland County Council’s application to reinstate Gilsland Station forward.
It seems that an application has been made to the “Restoring Your Railway fund”, a fund that includes at least £20m assigned to feasibility studies for the reopening of old railway stations. The Minister said that the proposal “might deliver benefits” and, subject to further information, could be pout forward for consideration in June or subsequent official reviews. He went on to say that Guy Opperman, along with other sponsors and promoters, was to be invited to attend a workshop in early June.
Northumberland County Council’s plan to reopen Gilsland is being sponsored by Mr Opperman and has the backing of Penrith and Border MP Dr Neil Hudson, Northumberland National Park Authority, the Tyne Valley Rail User Group and the Tyne Valley Community Rail Partnership, the Campaign to Open Gilsland Station, Hadrian’s Wall Partnership and a number of councils which span across the Northumberland and Cumbria border.
Mr Opperman is quoted as saying “We are not there yet, but we are getting closer and we have a fair chance to secure the funds thanks to the incredible support of community groups, councils, MPs and agencies right across Cumbria and Northumberland.”
Further information about the local campaign is available on both the internet and twitter. The addresses are: http://www.gilsland-station.org.uk and https://twitter.com/gilsstation
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Updated November 2020
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