Years of campaigning to reopen a vital transport link took a giant step towards becoming reality on Saturday.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling MP was in Colne to announce a feasibility study into the reopening of the railway line between Colne and Skipton.
The Secretary of State made the announcement while meeting with local rail campaigners and councillors along with representatives of the local business community.
Business representatives included Geoff Cowley, the Managing Director of the Wyndham Group which employs over 300 people in Earby, Dennis Mendoros OBE, Chairman of the Pendle Vision Board and Miranda Barker, the Chief Executive of the East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce.
The reopening of the rail line between Colne and Skipton has been something Pendle MP Andrew Stephenson has campaigned on for several years.
A Patron of the local rail campaign group SELRAP, since 2010, Mr Stephenson led a Parliamentary debate on re-opening the line in April last year and hosted a meeting with stakeholders in November.
He said: “I’m delighted the Transport Secretary accepted my invitation to visit Pendle and has announced a new study will be undertaken on reopening the Colne to Skipton railway line.
“His visit is further proof of this Government’s commitment to the Northern Powerhouse.
“I backed the campaign to reopen the line in my maiden speech after being elected eight years ago and have been pushing on it ever since.
“This study is our chance to demonstrate the business case for reopening the line, which I believe would provide a huge economic boost for Pendle and the wider region.”
Julian Smith, MP for Skipton and Ripon, added: “I am delighted with the Government’s announcement of a feasibility study into the value of reopening the Skipton to Colne railway.
“I pay tribute to all the campaigners and I look forward to working with Andrew Stephenson MP in helping to deliver the next stage of this railway line to the benefit of both our constituencies.”
Chairman of Colne Town Council Coun. Paul Foxley said: “Colne suffers from being the end of the line, meaning our local rail services haven’t been invested in for years.
“Re-opening the rail line through to Yorkshire presents a significant opportunity for our area and would have a very positive economic impact on Colne.
“Colne is already doing really well, but the news of a fully funded study into re-opening the line is a tremendous boost for our area.”
Chairman of West Craven Area Committee, Earby Coun. Mike Goulthorp said: “Re-opening this line would provide fast public transport to the rest of East Lancashire, Preston and Manchester, as well as to important nearby towns and cities such as Skipton, Leeds and Bradford.
“The re-opening would also provide a real economic boost to Barnoldswick and Earby by opening up new employment opportunities, attracting inward investment and further enhancing local tourism.”
County Coun. Joe Cooney said: “This is an exciting announcement which brings us a step closer to unlocking the potential of the line.”
Local Colne shop owner Ash Sutcliffe of Live Like The Boy said: “The reopening would be a huge boost to Colne’s retail businesses opening up our amazing town to a whole new market of shopper.
“It will also be great news for young people who want to live in Pendle but study, work or visit further afield.”
The 12-mile route, which last ran in 1970, could create a faster rail route across the Pennines and allow new passenger services between Lancashire, Skipton and Leeds.
Chris Grayling said: “The historic line between Skipton and Colne could deliver a vital link across the Pennines to boost business and move goods between the east and west much more quickly.
“I want this study to look clearly at the business case and value that the line could provide.”
The study is being commissioned by the Department for Transport and Transport for the North and is due to be completed this year.
Transport for the North’s Chief Executive, Barry White, said: “We are delighted that the Department for Transport has committed to exploring the possibility of reopening the railway line between Skipton and Colne. We will now work with the Department, taking note of previous work undertaken, to produce a cost and economic benefit study for re-opening the line.
“In our recently published draft Strategic Transport Plan for the North, we identified the Central Pennines as one of seven Strategic Development Corridors vital to future economic growth in the North.
“This work could help to improve connectivity in the Central Pennines and a reopened rail link between Skipton and Colne could create a new, faster freight-route across the Pennines as well as benefiting passengers with new services between Lancashire, Skipton and Leeds.
“This supports our vision of a thriving North of England, where modern transport connections drive economic growth and support an excellent quality of life.”
The government has set aside significant funding for the development of new railway schemes in the next railway funding period from 2019 to 2024.