Lancaster councillors back plans for campaign to keep direct trains to London amid HS2 concerns
Lancaster needs to show the same determination to keep good train connections with London as the town of Crewe showed when battling over its status on the new high speed HS2 rail network.
In addition, Lancaster and Preston should not be forced into competing with each other for direct London trains, with one or the other eventually losing out.
These were some of the calls from Lancaster City Council’s cabinet this week, as councillors backed plans for a lobbying campaign to keep direct trains to London.
Future direct services to London are at risk from the HS2 high speed rail timetables, they said. Lancaster passengers would have to catch one train to Preston then a second train to London, under future HS2 timetable predictions, the council’s cabinet heard.
The whole discussion about HS2 at the cabinet meeting on Tuesday had been recommended by council officers as an ‘exempt’ item for private discussion. That would have meant the public and media being asked to leave the meeting, if councillors voted for the recommended exemption.
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Private discussions are allowed by law, to discuss confidential or sensitive information, perhaps linked to financial contracts or business details for example.
However, Green councillor Caroline Jackson, leader of the council, said most of the HS2 discussion could be held in public with some appendix details kept private - and so the media and public remained.
Green councillor Gina Dowding then began the discussion by saying: “It’s important to say this is not about whether we are for or against HS2. This is about the impact that the HS2 operations would have on direct trains to London and vice versa, according to plans at this time.
“At the moment, information says we will be negatively effected because of future timetables. We are set to lose some, if not all, direct services to London. I think we need to look at this.
“HS2 Ltd published an assumptions report which is about the services HS2 expects to run and changes to the traditional rail services. That’s where we can see the services which stop at Lancaster being impacted. Hourly services are expected from Birmingham to Scotland, stopping at Lancaster, but not direct trains to London.
“I think everybody has seen the reasons we think Lancaster needs to keep London services. It’s really important for the area’s economy, for the position Lancaster holds in the region as a place for visitors and, of course, for basic convenience of the public and encouraging people to travel by train rather than car.
“The report highlights that the overall time in travelling to London does not increase hugely by changing at Preston. But the need to change trains is a huge discouragement to many passengers and is a huge demotion of Lancaster’s position on the West Coast Mainline.”
Green councillor Tim Hamilton-Cox said he welcomed supportive comments from Lancashire County Council and Lancashire LEP, the regional business and investment organisation. He asked for their comments to be added to the city council’s lobbying strategy.
Coun Jackson said: “This seems to be a very important point. I remember going to a meeting a few years ago about HS2 plans which, at the time, were going to miss Crewe. Now, HS2 is not going to miss Crewe. In fact, Crewe is going to be quite important.
“It was a political meeting but was attended by those who were most involved with Crewe, including in transport and housing. They were absolutely determined that HS2 was not going to miss Crewe and it has not.
“They talked about the economic impact on places where trains do not stop. They had statistics showing the reduced incomes of people living in areas not close to railway stations.
“At one point, the HS2 plans were to dig a tunnel under Crewe. We must ensure that Lancaster is not sidelined with people having to change at Preston. Changing trains is a disincentive for people with prams, pushchairs, bikes or young children.
“We have to be as determined as Crewe. We have to make sure HS2 does not miss out Lancaster. ”
Coun Dowding added: “The HS2 tracks were never intended to run to Lancaster. But given the talk we hear about ‘levelling-up’ I never thought a city such as Lancaster would become worse-off with trains. It’s a shock that this is suggested.
“It’s good that the county council and Lancashire LEP support us. But this should not be in competition between Lancaster and Preston. This should not be a debate about which city loses out. This is about Lancaster keeping its train services and prestige from having these connections.”
Labour councillor Erica Lewis said more discussions would be needed.
A further cabinet briefing on HS2 plans was held after the public discussion and more talks are expected.