Shapps hits out at council over £5k station refusal

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THE transport secretary has taken a swipe at Cheshire West and Chester Council over its refusal to stump up £5,000 towards reopening a Cheshire railway station.

In a direct attack in the Commons, Grant Shapps hit out at what he called councils who ‘paid lip service’ to the climate emergency.

The comments came during an exchange with Edward Timpson, the Conservative MP for Eddisbury, in a Parliamentary debate on decarbonisation.

Mr Timpson has supported local campaigners with plans to reopen Beeston Castle and Tarporley station. The station was closed in 1966 as part of the Beeching Cuts, but last year was one of 50 projects from across England and Wales to receive a £50,000 government grant towards reopening. But a bid to the council for £5,000 was unsuccessful.

In May, Cheshire West and Chester Council unanimously declared that the borough was in a climate emergency, and backers of the station plan say it would help with decarbonisation.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Shapps said: “I do think that local authorities that declare a climate emergency should be prepared to pay more than lip service to the issue.

“I was having a look and I understand, unfortunately, that the Labour-led Cheshire West and Chester Council is still refusing to contribute a mere £5,000 to his valiant efforts to reopen Beeston Castle and Tarporley station, the only potential station between Crewe and Chester.”

In its bid to the Department for Transport, the Beeston Castle & Tarporley Station Reopening Group envisaged that the Transport For Wales rail services would stop at the new station, providing 23 services a day to Chester from Monday to Saturday, and 25 to Crewe (24 on a Saturday). On Sunday there would be 28 services to Chester and 27 to Crewe.

Michael Flynn, the group’s chairman, said: “It is astonishing that, after officers told us that the council contributing to the reopening project was a ‘no brainer’, their political masters called the low-level funding decision in for review, and proactively prevented it.

“The only conclusion I can draw is that they are more interested in playing politics than supporting this immensely popular and once-in-a-generation opportunity to deliver new infrastructure in a rural area, which is chronically underserved by public transport.”

Mr Timpson declined to comment personally, but a senior local Conservative source said the MP was ‘frustrated and perplexed’ by the council’s stance.

Councillor Karen Shore, Cabinet Member for Environment, Highways & Strategic Transport, said: “The council welcomes any proposals for much-needed investment in our local rail network.

“We congratulate the Beeston-Tarporley Station Re-opening Group for securing government support for a new station.

“The council will support by providing technical advice and making existing analysis available, and through project development funding by the Local Enterprise Partnership.

“We do, however, believe that it is right that the project is fully funded by central government, as part of the wider investment needs for our national rail infrastructure.”

Dubbed ‘the Beeching cuts’ a report by Dr Richard Beeching in 1963 aimed at reducing mounting national railway debt led to roughly 5,000 miles of track and more than 2,300 stations axed, mainly in rural areas.