Work to return railway line to Leek may start next month
The first stretch of track on the £810,000 project to build a railway line connecting Leek to the Churnet Valley Railway could be laid in April.
The first 200 metres of track will be built north of Leekbrook if the £40,000 cost can be met (Image: Tom Burnett/StokeonTrentLive)
Long-awaited work to return the railway to Leek could start next month - if funding is approved.
Construction of the first 200 metres (656 feet) of track for the new heritage railway link from Leekbrook towards Leek may begin as soon as April, according to a council document to be discussed next week. The track would be the first stage in the plan to return a railway link to Leek, with the town getting a new railway station in the Cornhill area to allow trains to run to the existing Churnet Valley Railway.
This first stretch of track for the new rail link would cost around £40,000 - with Churnet Valley Railway providing £21,000 of funding for the work.
Staffordshire Moorlands District Council's Moorlands Partnership Board is now set to consider whether to defer a £20,000 'in principle' allocation for work at Leek's Victoria Buildings until the 2019/20 financial year - and instead offer a £19,000 grant to the railway to make up the shortfall. In a report to the board, council officers recommended members approve the plan at their recent meeting.
The report states: "There is an option to physically start on site and construct 200m of rail track from Leekbrook Station northwards. This land is within operational railway control and, subject to funding, can be delivered immediately. The advantage of undertaking these preliminary works are as follows: It sends a strong message to the wider community that works are commencing, it will encourage greater take-up/commitment to Share Issue (which will be used to match fund second stage works) [and] the majority of costs regarding more complex engineering will be north of this point. The cost of the works would be £40,000 for materials plus volunteer labour. Churnet Valley Railway can fund £21,000 towards the cost of the works but would require an additional £19,000.
200 metres of new track could be built from Leekbrook towards Leek (existing track near Cheddleton) (Image: StokeonTrentLive/Tom Burnett)
"There are insufficient funds within the remaining MPB [Moorlands Partnership Board] budget to offer a grant. However, at the time of writing the report there have been no grant applications submitted from the various owners of the Victoria Buildings. The ‘in principle’ allocation of £20,000 against the Victoria Buildings could be reallocated from next year’s budget and the funds redirected to a project that will start imminently."
The entire Leek rail link project is expected to cost around £810,000 from Leekbrook to Leek - with the Moorlands Partnership Board previously offering a £22,000 grant towards fees and services for the heritage rail link in 2017/18.
Many people hope to eventually see Leek reconnected to Stoke-on-Trent and the main railway network.
In a separate report on the current status of projects the Moorlands Partnership Board have provided grants for, officers said construction of the entire route was set to take 18 months once all the funding had been found. The report said: "To date, £28,626 has been spent on project development including planning permission, legal advice & fees associated with the cost of land transfer (the balance of funds coming from the regeneration revenue budget). The planning application has been approved, an expression of interest to co-fund the construction has been invited to full application (EAFRD – European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development). The signing of the Lease agreements was expected to take place by end of February 2019 (following approval by SMDC cabinet in December 2018).
The first track will be laid down north of Leekbrook Railway Station (Image: StokeonTrentLive/Tom Burnett)
"The full cost for construction of the line is circa £810,000. There is an 18-month construction period that would only commence once funding is confirmed. There is an option to physically start constructing 200 metres of track in April 2019."
The former railway track bed and former Leek Station, on the now Morrisons site, was opened by North Staffordshire Railway in 1849. The Leek station and railway line to Stoke-on-Trent was in use until 1956 - with passenger services to continuing Uttoxeter until 1965. The line was finally closed in the 1970s and the station and track were dismantled in 1973.
The land has since been used by walkers and cyclists and the proposed Leek terminus is approximately half a mile south of the historical station site.
The Churnet Valley Railway already has railway stations at Cheddleton, Leekbrook, Froghall and Consall - with also travels as far as the former Ipstones station on the Cauldon Lowe Branch Line.
The Moorlands Partnership Board will discuss the project at their meeting on Wednesday March 13.