Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Frodsham Station Car Park and the Halton Curve

Lynn and I have been working hard behind the scenes now for many years on seeking to get Network Rail, Arriva Trains as well as Cheshire West and Chester Council and the Government to invest in our station car park.  We've had debates at CWaC Council meetings, I've met the Transport Secretary of State Rt Hon Patrick McLoughlin MP and specifically raised the importance of the car park.  The Secretary of State has even visited Frodsham Station and seen the situation for himself.  The latest developments include an exchange of correspondence with the Secretary of State's office and Lynn and I writing to a raft of other interested parties.

We all know that the car park is full by around 8am most weekday morning and the parking in Frodsham for shoppers can be something of a problem.  We all welcome Frodsham's free car parking and Lynn and I are pledged to do what we can to ensure that car parking in Frodsham remains free for shoppers and residents.  We both see this as important for keeping Frodsham as the most successful retailing location in the Borough.

The re-opening of the Halton Curve is literally around the corner - the summer of 2017 is the suggested date for the works to take place.  When the curve is re-opened to two way passenger traffic Frodsham station is likely to become even more popular.  Car parking pressures in the town as a whole are likely to increase.

The obvious solution is, of course to increase car parking capacity at the station car park.

In addition to the continual lobbying:

In July 2014 I proposed the following motion to CWaC Full Council.  The council resolved to adopt it:

This video shows extracts from that debate and from the subsequent debate in December 2014 when rail projects were again considered.

The unanimous resolution from July 2014 was:

That this Council welcomes the recent announcement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer the Rt Hon George Osborne MP of the Government’s investment of £10.4 million in the restoration of the Halton Curve. The council also congratulates all who have campaigned so hard and for so many years for the Halton Curve to be restored.

The council notes in particular the successful work of Graham Evans MP, that of the North Cheshire Rail Supporters Group ably led by its Chairman Janet Briggs and even those who caught the Parliamentary Trains from time to time.

The prospect of the Halton Curve being open to regular and frequent two-way rail traffic brings with it fantastic opportunities and some challenges. The benefits of the curve being re-opened will be felt both within and outside the Borough. The prospect of easy rail journeys from North Wales, Chester, Helsby and Frodsham to Liverpool Airport beckons as well as the wider travel opportunities to Liverpool and all stations on the West Coast Main Line.

The Council calls on the Executive to undertake the necessary preparatory and planning work that will bring the maximum benefit to the Borough from the Halton Curve re-opening – including opening a dialogue with Network Rail and other stakeholders so as to ensure that our local infrastructure (including the station car parks at Frodsham and Helsby) will be able to manage the expected growth in rail travellers. 

In December 2014 CWaC Council again debated the planned rail improvements that will have an impact on the Borough.  The Halton Curve is one of the 11 schemes.  In the debate I again raised the importance of investing in the associated infrastructure - such as car parking.

On 6 February 2015 the Secretary of State visited Frodsham, was shown the station car park by Graham Evans MP.  I met him later that evening and pressed on him the importance of investing in our station car parks.
Me, Secretary of State Patrick McLoughlin, Cllr Alan McKie, Graham Evans MP
 discussing car parking at Frodsham and Helsby stations
Secretary of State at Frodsham Railway Station with Graham Evans MP with Janet and Philip Briggs
of North Cheshire Rail Users Group discussing the prospect of the Halton Curve for Frodsham

Following our meeting I wrote to the Secretary of State on 10 February 2015 in the following terms:

Dear Secretary of State

Re: Halton Curve and associated infrastructure needs: 
Frodsham & Helsby Stations - car parking

Thank you for visiting Frodsham Station on 6 February 2015 and for speaking with Graham Evans MP, Cllr Alan McKie and me about the Halton Curve and our associated infrastructure needs.

Locally we are delighted that you and the Government have recognised the importance of reinstating the Halton Curve and making the links between the northern Cheshire railway lines and Liverpool.  Over recent years we have seen significant growth in rail usage at our local railway stations - notably at Frodsham and Helsby.  Many of the passengers arrive at the stations by car - and park their cars at or near these Stations. 

Frodsham station car park is full every working day by around 8am in the morning. This is problematic for the town as the station car park is one of our principal car parks for the town as a whole. The Situation at Helsby Railway Station car park is also particularly pressured.

Our communities want the investment in the Halton Curve to be maximised but we need to make sure the associated infrastructure such as car parking capacity at Frodsham and Helsby railway stations is significantly expanded to support the greater number of passengers anticipated. We also need to ensure that our communities avoid the worst consequences of having insufficient car parking spaces.  Frodsham is the most successful retail location in Cheshire West and Chester in terms of its low retail vacancy rate. Such a position can only be maintained if visitors can park their cars easily in the town.

At my behest Cheshire West and Chester Council resolved to support the expansion of the rail network in and around our Borough. The council also noted that the expansion of the rail network brings with it demands to improve the associated infrastructure such as station car parks.

We'd very much welcome an announcement from you as to when the Halton Curve works will be commenced along with a Statement indicating that the Government and Network Rail will be  investing in our local car parks too. The obvious solution for Frodsham is a small multi-storey car park. For Helsby, land adjacent to the station could readily become a car park.

Yours sincerely

Cllr Andrew Dawson

On 10 March 2015 I received the following reply:

With this reply - and following up on the information in the letter on 16 March Lynn and 
 I wrote the following letter to:

(1) First Minister, Welsh Assembly Government
(2) Chief Executive National Rail
(3) Chief Executive Arriva Trains Wales
(4) Chief Executive Merseytravel
(5) Cheif Executive Cheshire West and Chester Council

Dear Sirs
Frodsham Railway Station Car Park – likely impact of restoration of Halton Curve reopening

We have been in correspondence with the Secretary of State the Rt Hon Patrick McLoughlin MP regarding the re-opening of the Halton Curve railway line and in particular the importance of investing in car parking capacity and other associated infrastructure at Railway Stations such as Frodsham.   In his reply to us the Secretary of State’s office has pointed to the role of each of your respective organisations in the Halton Curve scheme – hence our correspondence with you now.

As we are sure you already recognise this short stretch of railway joins the main Chester & North Wales to Manchester Line with the Liverpool-London line.  When completed it will be a strategic link giving main line rail access to Liverpool and the Liverpool-London line for those of us living in north Cheshire and north Wales.

There has been significant and welcome growth in rail passengers using Frodsham station in recent years.  Many rail commuters travel to Frodsham by car and park at our Cheshire West and Chester Council owned station car park.  Typically this car park is full by 8am on a weekday morning.  This inevitably means that the car park is not available for visitors and shoppers to Frodsham.  It also means that some rail commuters have to park elsewhere in the town.  Problems are most acute on Thursdays when Main Street in Frodsham hosts the weekly market.  Frodsham is also the most successful retail location in Cheshire West and Chester.[1]

Whilst we very much welcome the announcement of funding for these works and the indicative timetable suggesting that the Curve could be re-opened to two-way passenger traffic by the summer of 2017 we are very conscious that if the use of the service is to be maximised and the vitality of Frodsham as a successful shopping centre is to be protected additional car parking capacity associated with rail travel will need to be created.  The obvious solution to this very obvious issue is to create additional capacity at the station car park where Network Rail also own land.

Given your identified and pivotal role in the restoration of the Halton Curve we call upon each of you individually and collectively to tell us what plans you have to invest in Frodsham’s infrastructure in advance of the curve re-opening.

Whilst the likely effects in Frodsham are readily identifiable and predictable there are already acute problems at Helsby Railway station car park ever before one considers the additional traffic that will be generated by the re-opening of the Halton Curve.  Given this we would welcome sight of your all your risk assessments, plans and proposals for all affected stations in North Cheshire and North Wales.

As Cheshire West and Chester Councillors we have already have had Cheshire West and Chester Council debate the Halton Curve and we have participated in other debates where the investment in Cheshire and North Wale rail infrastructure has also been very much welcomed.  We have also sought to ensure that our council plays its part in investing in our infrastructure – and we call on all strategic partners to do the same.

Extract of minutes from the most recent council meetings have been appended to this letter for ease of reference.  Should you wish to view the debates you can review the webcasts or ask the council for any archived videos.

We see investing in Frodsham’s infrastructure both as a key component in ensuring the success of the Halton Curve re-opening as well as safeguarding Frodsham’s future as a successful and welcoming retail location where rail commuters and shoppers can park without harm to the town or its residents.  We seek assurances that you share our ambition and recognise the importance of this issue to Frodsham and that you are committed as we are to see the necessary investments made in advance of the curve re-opening to regular two-way passenger trains.

Yours faithfully

Cllrs Andrew Dawson & Lynn Riley

[1] As measured by vacancies in retail units.  Current figure less than 3 percent as measured by CWaC LDF annual monitoring report

We've also written specifically to CWaC asking them to put the station car park before the LEP - the Local Enterprise Partnership - and to investigate whether additional land could be made available for expanding the station car park too.

We live, as they say, in interesting times.  
As we get replies from the various organisations involved we will publish them for everyone to see.