The case for improving access to Handforth Station platforms
We know very well that the main thing missing at our lovely station is step-free access. Unfortunately, FoHS have neither the remit nor the funds to do anything about this directly ourselves. Instead, we can only act as a lobbying group to try to persuade the owners of the station (Network Rail) and the operator (currently Northern) to install step-free access.
This article gives a history and explains the current situation.
From 1996 – Raising the Profile of Handforth Station
The Friends of Handforth Station group was formed in 1996. One objective was: “To promote and campaign for improved facilities to be provided by Railtrack and services by First North Western”.
We decided that we first needed to raise the profile of the station, so we introduced a series of environmental enhancements aimed at convincing the rail industry of the value of our station.
This was done by: “involving all in the community by encouraging full local participation, particularly by young people, schools, groups and passengers in conservation, environment and associated education, artworks, poetry and competitions at the stations and its environs”
Doing this has resulted in numerous awards since 1997. These include awards from Britain In Bloom, Wilmslow Tidy Towns, Age Concern, ACoRP and Handforth in Bloom. Most spectacularly we, jointly with ACoRP, won the national Railway Forum “Best Small Scale Innovation Award” in 2003 – when the overall winner was The Channel Tunnel Rail Link!
Other awards won by Handforth Station include 13 Cheshire Best Kept Station awards from 2003 to 2017 including the Diamond Jubilee Award in 2012, the Big Society Award in 2011 and Cheshire’s Best Kept Station in both 2009 and 2005.
These awards were due to the continuing community commitment, and to support from local businesses and numerous grants totalling over £50,000 since 1996.
2010 Onwards – the Royal British Legion Site
Throughout the 2000s, we continued to use our growing positive reputation to press for disabled access, a drop-off point and a station car park.
In May 2010, Jim Crockatt (then the holder of the Highways and Infrastructure Portfolio within Cheshire County Council) confirmed that time was allocated for the preparation of preliminary drawings by Cheshire County Council for this.
We held discussions with the head office of the Royal British Legion, the owners of land adjacent to Handforth station along the station’s Eastern boundary. RBL were sympathetic to providing access and possibly car parking for station users in the day-time, but asked for community support for our proposal and evidence of public demand for these facilities. Friends of Handforth Station obtained over 500 signatures to our petition for this.
However the local Royal British Legion branch then ran into difficulties and in 2016 the RBL land was sold to Jones Homes.
In response to our request for access to be provided in Jones Homes’s proposed Carriages development on the ex-RBL land, Peter Jones (the Chairman of the Emerson Group, which owns Jones Homes) met us on-site to discuss options. Following this, Jones Homes included a route for platform access, in their planning submission for the Carriages development. This would have given access from the public highway to the station’s Eastern boundary. Our proposal was for volunteers working with the Probation Service to then construct a route, complying with the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, from this boundary to the Wilmslow-bound platform. (Access to the Manchester-bound platform was at that time seen as relatively simple to construct, so we were concentrating on the Wilmslow-bound platform.)
However, a few days before the relevant Planning Meeting, and without our knowledge, this route was removed from Jones Homes’s application. Instead, a small area of land was reserved for future access on the Northwest corner of the Carriages development. This land is useless on its own for access to the station platforms.
FoHS continued to discuss options directly with Peter Jones, and received half a dozen letters from him personally. To our great disappointment, the last dated 18th December 2017 convinced us that there was no realistic way of progressing options with Jones Homes.
Since 2017 – “Access for All” Funding
Since December 2017, FoHS have held meetings with Network Rail, Northern Rail and Cheshire East Council to discuss the options. In February 2018 we were encouraged to bid for the Department for Transport’s “Access For All” funding.
We have asked Network Rail to provide costs for the necessary report for the application, and have also bid for £25,000 funding from Northern Rail’s Seed Corn Fund, available to station groups, for this. We are very grateful to Survey Systems who have provided a topographical survey of the station area. We awaited the imminent outcome of our bid so that Network Rail could start the report in July 2018, ready for submission at the end of summer 2018. Unfortunately, FoHS have now been advised that the report is subject to VAT, so we are frantically attempting to obtain an additional £5,000 from various sources.
We need better access to Handforth Station platforms
- Because of the huge number of wheelchair users, pushchair users, and less able people currently unable to use the station. We have photographic evidence of the problem. Handforth is a growing town with many new houses in the pipeline, many care homes and a school for the profoundly disabled.
- To meet the government’s commitment to Access for All.
Friends of Handforth Station have identified a series of possible solutions for step-free access to the platforms and and have discussed them all with Northern and Network Rail. These include:
- Lift access – seen as very expensive on construction and maintenance
- Ramp access from Station Road to the Wilmslow-bound platform along the side of The Carriages – needing minimal construction costs but requires purchase of land from Jones Homes, by Compulsory Purchase Order if necessary
- A longer, but more conventional ramp access to the Wilmslow-bound platform from the entrance to the station, possibly using the small section of land reserved by Jones Homes and replicating the ramp that was there in the 1950s.
- A similar long ramp could also be possible to the Manchester-bound platform.
- Ramp access from South Acre Drive to the Manchester-bound platform – various positions along this are possible, with the ramp nearest the waiting shelter having been used in the past as access by Network Rail and being the easiest to install. Note : FoHS were authorized by Northern to open this access for the day of the commemoration of the start of WW1 event.
In addition, a car park is required close to the station with safe cycle storage, a bus stop and a drop-off point. This is because the existing car parking is on local streets and in car parks designed for short visits for local shopping – all of which is entirely inadequate for station users.
Note that 289,000 rail users/year use Handforth Railway Station (source: Office of Rail and Road Statistics) and Handforth is expected to increase in size by another 2000+ houses by 2030. This proposed increase in housing, for all of which Handforth Station is the nearest railway station, must be catered for.
Passenger numbers rose from 268,000 in 2015/16 to 289,000 in 2016/17 and are still rising (source: Office of Rail and Road Statistics).
The current proposed Handforth Neighbourhood plan identifies both access to the platforms and a station car park as priority requirements in the near future. It suggests that funding from future developments is used to help provide this access. At a referendum in Handforth on 12th July 2018 over 80% of those who voted, voted in favour of Cheshire East Council using the Neighbourhood Plan to help decide applications in the neighbourhood area.
FoHS are currently preparing our bid for the government Access For All funding in collaboration with Northern and Network Rail.
We shall try to update this every few months and as the situation changes.
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