Ambitious plan for borough’s stations

Yvonne Fovargue MP
Yvonne Fovargue MP

An MP from the borough has given her backing to transport bosses’ bold new proposal to bring Wigan’s railway stations back under local control.

Yvonne Fovargue, parliamentary representative for Makerfield, says she supports the Case for Change proposed by Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) to transform 96 stations across the region.

The plans involve transferring the ownership and management of Greater Manchester’s stations to local organisations from Network Rail and the train operators.

TfGM then proposes running many of them as community hubs along social enterprise lines, giving Wiganers and community groups a real chance to have a say in how they are maintained and run.

Ms Fovargue said some of the borough’s best-kept stations such as Hindley showed how community groups could do an excellent job of maintenance and upkeep and compared that favourably with the local stations run by large companies and authorities.

Ms Fovargue said: “For too long many of our rail stations have been desolate and uninviting buildings suffering from lack of investment and Case for Change is an opportunity to build new vibrant hubs that are much more than just a train station.

“Local control of our network of rail stations is an extension of the devolution agenda and if successful will compliment the work of volunteers such as the Friends of Hindley Station who have worked hard to improve the station environment for rail passengers.”

TfGM’s documents submitted in support of locally-owned stations include plans for platforms and buildings to be used as gyms, art galleries and concert venues as well as locations for local weekend markets, carnivals and other community events.

The move could also create jobs for people living near the stations and improve passenger experiences by making the whole system more integrated under the oversight of Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) and the elected mayor.

This would also fit with the organisation’s 2040 transport strategy for the region which called for much more joined-up thinking in the bus, rail and tram network across Greater Manchester.

If ministers at Westminster agree this summer most of the region’s stations, including those in Wigan borough, could be transferred to local ownership within two or three years.

Transport chiefs say up to £400m could be invested over the next two decades if the proposal gets the green light.

The plan also suggests related land near the stations could be used to improve car parking or for houses or commercial developments.

Bosses say this would be an improvement on current arrangements as the franchises only have funding mechanisms for up to nine years before they have to re-bid, which prevents long-term planning.

Jon Lamonte, TfGM’s chief executive, said: “Under the current system, Greater Manchester’s rail stations have not developed in line with customer expectations.

“This is an innovative approach that that would transform local stations into transport hubs that are well-used, offer a pleasant travel experience and improve quality of life by offering a useful asset for the local community.”