A rail link for Marlborough? 'There's no money' - but there's a large bucket of cold water
As far as Wiltshire Council are concerned Marlborough is at the very bottom of the list for developing a rail link to re-connect the town to the rail system.
Before the Town Council's planning committee meeting on Monday (April 9), Councillor Horace Prickett, Wiltshire Council portfolio holder for transport, gave a presentation on how to apply for a link and a station - and where the successful ones were likely to be. Answer: not for Marlborough. Especially as Marlborough needs not just a station (Wiltshire Council estimates the cost of stations at £10million each) but a railway line.
Corsham, Wilton, Ludgershall and Royal Wootton Bassett all score more highly against the four criteria that need to be in place. Marlborough only qualifies on size of population in the catchment area.
Marlborough does not have a nearby station, an operational railway line and a service provider. Which was rather the point really of Transition Marlborough's proposal.
The process of getting approval for a link is long and complex and could cost up to £235,000 just to get a presentation together for the government and GWR. Councillor Prickett did say the town council and Transition Marlborough had missed the boat - or bus - in not taking part in GWR's recent call for new rail schemes. Neither seemed to have heard of this.
Councillor Prickett gave two warnings: first that with a nearby station and a reliable train service, developers can charge 26 per cent extra on new housing. Surely no one wants Marlborough house prices to rise any higher.
Secondly and probably more seriously, he warned about the Peninsular Rail Taskforce that is very active in getting better transport services to and from the far south west of England. They want a regular Plymouth to London service that takes three hours. To do this they are quite keen on closing level crossings and proposing that services do not stop at 'minor stations'.
Councillor Prickett: "They are a real threat to [Wiltshire's] rail services and put Bedwyn Station at real risk." And Wiltshire Council - although routes go through the county - have no representation on the Task Force.
Councillor Prickett had one positive idea for Marlborough - they should join with the 'very successful' Bedwyn rail users' group (to which some Marlborough train users already belong) and Pewsey to form a Pewsey Vale Users' Group. He stressed that pressure and lobbying would be paramount if rail services were to be improved in the area.
Marlborough Councillor Bryan Castle: "I think we're all guilty of not thinking laterally. We should go for a tramway to Swindon along the old railway line." Other councillors were sceptical about that idea.
Dr Sam Page of Transition Marlborough explained that all they had wanted was support from Wiltshire Council - the Local Enterprise Partnership and GWR had been interested but only if Wiltshire Council supported it.
Councillor Prickett said it depended on what kind of support they wanted - Wiltshire Council had no money and he only had two officers to do all his work.
There seemed to be seriously crossed lines there. Surely a letter of support would have helped get the scheme moving forard. As to the 'no money' argument - we do know that in the last financial year Wiltshire Council used £180,000 from an extra Department for Transport grant on initial work for rail improvement schemes in Chippenham, Wilton, Salisbury and Melksham.
Peter Ridal, who had worked on the Transition Marlborough proposal, emphasised that they had wanted Wiltshire Council's support not their money. He said the town was becoming overwhelmed with traffic and asked what the alternatives were.
It is worth noting what a (November 2017) Wiltshire Council consultation paper on future 'Housing Market Areas' said under the heading of Transport. Here it is in full: "Through traffic detracts from the attractiveness of the town centre and harms air quality. Recent measures have focussed on encouraging cycling."
So you tell the next HGV driver who asks if he can get to Swindon by going up Kingsbury Street that he should really be cycling.