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Borderlands leaders seek £20 million of seedcorn investment from Chancellor

Local authority leaders across North Wales, the Wirral and Cheshire West and Chester are seeking £20 million in seedcorn funding from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in next week’s Spending Review, to develop three rail improvement schemes in the borderlands region vital for future prosperity.

Writing to Rishi Sunak MP on behalf of local authorities and business organisations in the Growth Track 360 Alliance, its Chair – Councillor Louise Gittins, Leader of Cheshire West and Chester – and Vice Chair – Councillor Ian Roberts, Leader of Flintshire – urge the Chancellor to “seize the opportunity to strengthen the Union, generate inclusive economic growth, promote sustainable transport and reduce carbon emissions by making modest seedcorn investments in three well-developed cross-border rail modernisation schemes in North Wales, the Wirral and Cheshire.” 

Councillors Gittins and Roberts go on to say, “Just £20m of development funding over the next three years would enable Growth Track 360’s constituent members and their partners to make decisive, tangible progress with these projects during the lifetime of the present Parliament”. 

The three projects prioritised by Growth Track 360 for seedcorn funding are: 

  1. Wrexham to Liverpool Transformation: Twenty-First Century Travel in a Corridor of World Class Industries
  2. North Wales Coast Mainline: Expanding Overseas and British Tourism Sustainably in an Area of Extraordinary Beauty, and
  3. Chester Station Modernisation: A Millennial Gateway for a City of Millennia.

Councillor Gittins said: “Working cross-border and cross-party, political and business leaders across North Wales, the Wirral and Cheshire West and Chester want to build back better from the pandemic to achieve a greener, low-carbon future of sustainable prosperity for all our communities and citizens.  The modest seedcorn funding we are seeking from the Chancellor will enable us to move these three key rail improvement schemes to the next stage of development.”

1.         Rail Scheme Details

Wrexham to Liverpool Transformation: Twenty-First Century Travel in a Corridor of World Class Industries

This economic supercharging scheme being developed by Transport for Wales, Liverpool City Region, Merseyrail and Network Rail aims to transform a neglected, slow and erratic diesel train service based on hourly services run by Transport for Wales from Wrexham to Bidston, just outside Birkenhead, into a busy commuter line serving major centres of employment, three Enterprise Zones and residential areas from Wrexham through Flintshire and the Wirral directly into central Liverpool.

This is a corridor of world class industries vital to the success of global Britain as the UK finds its new place in the world independently from the European Union, including Moneypenny, Airbus, Tata Steel, Toyota, GM, Unilever and Cammell Laird.

Currently, passengers must change trains at Bidston in order to continue into Liverpool city centre on a Merseyrail electric train over the central loop line. Bidston is an isolated station at an interchange of the M53 but Birkenhead is a deprived area with ambitious plans for growth symbolised by the proposed Wirral Waters development led by the Peel Group. 

An electric/battery operated direct train service every 15 minutes will be transformational, linking three major employment centres - Wrexham, Deeside and Liverpool/Birkenhead. It would form the core of a cross-border “Metro” system with rail hubs served by bus services commissioned by Transport for Wales, Liverpool City Region Combined Authority and Cheshire West and Chester Council.

North Wales Coast Mainline: Expanding Overseas and British Tourism Sustainably in an Area of Extraordinary Beauty

Acceleration of investment in the North Wales Coast Line will strengthen the Union by improving connectivity between North Wales and the major cities of the UK as well as upgrading an international link to the Republic of Ireland. Enhanced connectivity will drive economic growth, labour mobility and agglomeration effects.

Investment in the North Wales Main Line will aid the development of the North Wales Metro concept where a rail spine will be connected to employment centres, residential areas and tourist destinations by bus services and active travel corridors. 

The Metro concept aims to reduce car use, congestion, pollution and carbon emissions in the North Wales coastal corridor, offering an alternative mode of travel to the many tourists (estimated at 30m plus in a year) who visit North Wales and Chester. Businesses in North Wales have long called for better access to Manchester Airport, which improvements to the Main Line will facilitate. 

Eventual electrification of the North Wales Coast Line will enable seamless

connectivity with HS2 at Crewe and potentially HS2 classic-compatible trains running from London and Birmingham via Crewe to Bangor and Holyhead.

Chester Station Modernisation: A Millennial Gateway for a City of Millennia

Chester station is the arrival point for one of England’s most important tourist cities as well as the rail gateway for North Wales. Services from North Wales to Manchester (including the Airport), Liverpool (via the Halton Curve), London, Birmingham and Cardiff all pass-through Chester. The station also serves the Wirral and Cheshire. It is critical to connectivity between England and North Wales and also plays a big part in linking North and South Wales. 

Yet the current station capacity and layout are a constraint on the growth of services whilst slowing down trains. Rapid growth in passenger numbers to around 5 million in 2018-19 has outstripped the capacity of the station and its facilities, including parking, toilets, ticket gates and the concourse. Chester station’s environment is disappointing for passengers arriving in this stunning City or changing to travel onwards into the beauty of North Wales. 

Many agencies are collaborating to improve the station’s contribution to improved connectivity and journey quality. The master planning of Chester City Gateway is subject to a tripartite commission by Cheshire West and Chester Council, London Continental Railways and Network Rail scheduled to report in early 2021. (corrected)

Without additional capacity to increase the throughput of trains at Chester, communities west of the City will be unable to connect with and benefit from the arrival of HS2 at Crewe.

2.         About Growth Track 360

Growth Track 360 is a public-private partnership established in 2016 uniting North Wales, the Wirral and Cheshire West and Chester. Its goal is improving cross-border transport connectivity with specific emphasis on rail.

Growth Track 360 works closely with key stakeholders, their policies and objectives including the Welsh Government, Transport for the North, Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, Mersey Dee Alliance, North Wales Economic Ambition Board, Transport for Wales, the West and Wales Transport Forum and the private sector.

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