MANCHESTER PICCADILLY: Southport could lose rail link
Southport could lose its direct rail link with Manchester Piccadilly, under new plans from the Department for Transport (DfT).
While what is being presented is billed as three options to “improve rail performance in the north of England”, many local people and representatives say Southport would get a raw deal.
This isn’t the first time the service has faced the axe in recent years.
In 2018, Wigan MP Lisa Nandy said she had been handed emails showing that high-ranking decision-makers in the department and government discussed in private the aim to axe prominent routes such as the Southport to Manchester Victoria line in Lancashire.
One of the emails between DfT officials said: “So Southport-Leeds is not really a ‘valued’ connection from an evaluation point of view, but my conclusion was that on balance we should contract it basically as a sop to Southport, at a time when they will be losing their Piccadilly/Airport link.”
OPSTA’s (Ormskirk, Preston and Southport Travellers’ Association) Piccadilly campaign started in 2015 in response to a previous consultation with similar aims.
The direct link between Southport and Manchester Airport was controversially withdrawn in May 2018, though a few peak services to Piccadilly were kept.
By December 2019, after campaigning by OPSTA, Southport MP Damien Moore, Cllr John Pugh, and others, a full service to Manchester Piccadilly had been reinstated.
OPSTA said it questions whether lessons have been learned from last time.
Its chair, Alan Fantom, said: “How can the elimination of an entire route be deemed acceptable?
“If implemented as intended in May 2022 there will be severe adverse impact not just for Southport and Sefton, but south and west Lancashire, Wigan and further afield.
“Furthermore this is the only route to have justified itself with a full business case in the last three years in response to the service specification for the last franchise.”
He went on to say there are better options, which include an extension of the Wigan North Western peak to Blackpool, or a switch of one Blackpool and Southport service; giving both lines direct access to both sides of Manchester city centre and each of its five stations.
Southport Labour say the government is “up to its old tricks” by trying to remove the service for a second time.
Labour councillor Greg Myers says the DfT’s suggestions “offer little choice” for Southport – as all the three options result in the loss of the Piccadilly service.
Cllr Myers said: “It seems that now a few years have passed the Dft is up to its old tricks and is back to try and finish the job with this supposed consultation, which is little more than a stacked deck against Southport.”
“Not one of the options offered sees the direct Southport to Manchester Piccadilly service remain, it’s another con trick on local residents and must be strongly resisted.”
He said he has raised the matter with the city region and Sefton Council, and is calling on Southport’s MP for his support.
But Damien Moore
His spokesman told the LDRS said: “While Southport Labour Party put forward nothing more than an assembly of platitudes in support of this service returning back in 2018, it was Damien Moore MP in partnership with local rail groups who secured it, having submitted a comprehensive business case to the DfT.
“The service returning had nothing to do with Cllr Myers, Sefton Council, or the Combined Authority.”
Southport Lib Dem Leader Cllr John Pugh says he believes the proposed changes to rail links are of no benefit to Southport.
Cllr Pugh said: “It is not unusual for southern based governments to overlook our needs. What is new is the false assumption that we are stupid enough not to notice”.
You can view the proposed timetable options in full at https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/timetable-options-to-improve-rail-performance-in-the-north-of-england
Rail users are encouraged to email their views to firstname.lastname@example.org
Words: Kate Lally, Local Democracy Reporter
Watch the channel on TV