What is “Stratford-Honeybourne”?

Government says No to Stratford – Honeybourne RYR Rail Reopening Case 

The Minister for State for Transport, Wendy Morton MP, announced on Friday 17 June 2022 that the next stages being an outline and full business case to reopen the Stratford upon Avon to Honeybourne railway line would not be progressed.

It’s a hammer blow for the four local Rail User Groups (RUGs) that mounted the bid and did considerable work with Wychavon District Council, who led a submission under the government’s “Restoring Your Railway” scheme. The proposal was sponsored by Nigel Huddleston, the Member of Parliament for Mid-Worcestershire.  

The section of the railway line, which was closed following a freight train derailment in 1976, would have enabled train services between Birmingham and the South West and South Wales, and direct services to and from Oxford, the Thames Valley and London Paddington. A circular service directly linking Birmingham with Stratford, Shirley, Solihull, Henley in Arden, Long Marston, Evesham, Pershore, Worcester and Stourbridge would have also been possible.

The Stratford Rail Transport Group, Cotswold Line Promotion Group, Solihull and Leamington Spa Rail Users Association and Shakespeare Line Promotion Group (the Rail User Group for Stratford – Birmingham services) are all very disappointed by the announcement. 

On hearing the announcement, the Chair of SLPG, Peter Morris, said 

“It is a sad day for Stratford upon Avon and the surrounding district, which is increasingly plagued by unsustainable levels of road traffic putting off potential visitors to the district, which are crucial to the area’s local economy.

All four RUGs worked hard on this submission and we successfully garnered the support of eleven MPs along the route from Birmingham to Oxford. We want to thank Wychavon District Council for taking the lead local authority role and Nigel Huddlestone MP for sponsoring the bid. 

We believe the RYR (Restore Your Railway) submission was strong and are disappointed that the broader network and economic benefits that would have arisen from restoring the missing rail link failed to get the submission to the next stage. The rail link would have also provided a much-needed and complete solution to the sustainable transport needs at the new Long Marston village development. 

Nevertheless, SLPG took a view several years ago that a proper economic appraisal must inform any reopening decision. With this announcement, we will keep to our word and consequently will no longer proactively campaign to restore the Stratford upon Avon – Honeybourne section of railway line. 

Improvements to train services are limited compared to the opportunities that would have been available from reopening Stratford-Honeybourne. However, SLPG’s focus will now be on improving existing railway services as much as possible from and to Stratford upon Avon and all places on its two lines, one being with Birmingham and the other Leamington Spa/London, and we look forward to comprehensively engaging with the relevant stakeholders on such matters.” 

 

A potential scheme to significantly improve rail connectivity between the South Midlands, West Midlands, the Thames Valley, London, South Wales and the South West

The railway line that currently stops at Stratford upon Avon would extend south by some 6 miles to Long Marston where it would connect with a railway line from the Cotswold main line between Worcester, Oxford and London Paddington. The line used to exist until it was disused and lifted in 1976. The route remains intact and protected by Stratford on Avon District Core Strategy Plan for the purpose of potential reopening.

Visitors and the Local Economy

The national average for visitors by rail to other UK visitor destinations comparable with Stratford upon Avon is 12%. At Stratford upon Avon, despite annual rail passenger journeys exceed 1 million only 6% of visitors come by rail, that’s half the comparable national average.

For Stratford upon Avon to attract more visitors and reach the 12% average, which it could easily do, much better train services with significantly greater connectivity are needed. Reaching the national average for visitors by rail would mean over 400,000 additional visitors to Stratford upon Avon and South Warwickshire. Using values in the latest Tourist Impact Assessment from Stratford on Avon District Council, an extra 400,000 visitors notionally amount to over £20 million additional annual income for the local economy. This would provide significant support particularly towards the diverse and unique range of town centre businesses.

A reopened railway could provide the ability to operate orbital train services in both directions between Birmingham-Stratford-Evesham-Worcester-Birmingham providing connections for South Wales and South West at the new Worcestershire Parkway.

The reopened line would provide the ability to operate direct train services with a 12 mile shorter route between Stratford upon Avon, the Cotswolds, Oxford, Reading, Heathrow Airport and London Paddington

Housing, Population Growth and Environment

The scale of proposed housing development between 2018 and 2030 along the existing railway line between Birmingham and Stratford upon Avon, and in the area to the south and west of Stratford upon Avon towards Worcester, exceeds 30,000 new homes with an associated population growth of 69,000. Some of this growth is due to the absorption of increased allocations for new housing being placed on shire districts to assist Birmingham and the West Midlands conurbation.

Much of the employment arising from these proposed developments in this part of the South Midlands is likely to be derived from Birmingham and the West Midlands (the A435 and A46 corridors) and consequently there is a need to significantly improve not just train service frequency but greater connectivity through adequate railway infrastructure enabling people to make modal shift from car to train.

The increasing need to reduce harmful emissions caused by vehicular traffic is uppermost in major towns and cities where the greatest concentration of motor vehicles is situated. Birmingham has recognised the issue of emissions and will need to invest significantly in better public transport, not just in its immediate vicinity but much further to take in home to work commuting journeys.

The Garden Village at Long Marston, together with other significant levels of new development at Long Marston and closely adjacent in North Gloucestershire and East Worcestershire, determine that a Long Marston Parkway rail station could be viable on any reopened line. This would facilitate a train service between Long Marston and Birmingham City Centre taking around just 45/50 minutes.

SLPG have objected to the proposed Garden Village and South Western Relief Road plans that have been submitted to the Local Planning Authority (Stratford on Avon District Council) because the proposals do not contain or mirror any of the elements related to sustainable transport infrastructure and services that were included in the bid made to HM Government to obtain Garden Village status. In addition, we have asked the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to call the planning applications in.

The Shakespeare Line Promotion Group (SLPG) carried out two online surveys in Spring 2018. One of the questions that was asked concerned the Stratford-Honeybourne reopening scheme. The question in the survey sought to ascertain the level of support for this scheme to be examined and investigated further.

Over 800 rail users and over 80 town centre businesses from Stratford upon Avon took part with an overwhelming 94% saying that they want an Economic Impact Assessment carried out by the local authorities and stakeholders as soon as possible to properly and objectively determine the viability and feasibility of the scheme.

The first stage in progressing this scheme is to evaluate if an economic case exists that would support progressing to a full business case and proposal to reopen the railway line. In Scotland this is referred to as the ‘pre-appraisal’ work and it has led to a number of successful schemes being identified, progressed and delivered. The mechanism that provides the economic information is called an Economic Impact Study (EIS). The cost of this work is likely to be between £20k to £40k and shared among several local authorities and stakeholders we believe that such a study, given the overwhelming support for it, would not cost each stakeholder more than £7k each.

SLPG are no longer campaigning for the outright reopening of the Stratford-Honeybourne railway line but neither do we accept the proposal being dismissed or continually relegated to the bottom of priorities with no supporting evidence.

SLPG’s online surveys carried out earlier this year demonstrate there is overwhelming support from both the general public and Stratford upon Avon town centre businesses for a full Economic Impact Study to be carried out to determine the feasibility of reopening the railway. Consequently, SLPG continues to pursue local authorities, key stakeholders, politicians and any other relevant organisation to get an independent and comprehensive EIS completed into the reopening proposal. Only then can the scheme be determined as being viable or not.

There is much more information available at a site that we have dedicated to deal with the potential to reopen the railway between Stratford upon Avon and Honeybourne this can be accessed by going to:  www.suawoox.com