Rail campaigners and Southport BID are resisting proposals to cut the town’s direct rail link to Manchester Piccadilly which they claim would be a huge economic blow. Tony McDonough reports
A plan to cut one of Southport’s two rail links with Manchester city centre could have a devastating effect on the town’s economy, business leaders claim.
Local people and businesses are being urged to makes their voices heard in a public consultation on plans to reduce rail congestion in Manchester. It is being overseen by the Manchester Rail Task Force, led by the Department for Transport and Network Rail.
It is looking at three options to ease the pressure on Manchester city centre rail capacity. All three options would see the axing of the direct from Southport to Deansgate, Oxford Rd and Piccadilly in the south of the city centre.
A service to Manchester Victoria, in the north of the city centre would remain. However, around two-thirds of regular commuters from Southport rely on the south side service which offers access to businesses, hospitals and onward connections to multiple other destinations, including Manchester Airport.
Direct rail connectivity with Manchester and Liverpool are seen as critical to Southport’s economic wellbeing. Organisations such as Southport BID are looking to attract more business and more people to come to the town. The loss of such a vital transport link would be seen as a huge blow.
Now Ormskirk, Preston and Southport Travellers Association (OPSTA), backed by the BID, is pushing back on the plans. This is not the first time this battle has been fought. A direct service between Southport and Manchester Airport, calling at Piccadilly, was withdrawn in May 2018.
However, thanks to the efforts of OPSTA, a a full service to Manchester Piccadilly was reinstated in December 2019. It included more services between Southport and Wigan, Bolton and Manchester Victoria (north) and Piccadilly (south). Now the route is under threat again.
OPSTA chair Alan Fantom told LBN: “Many highly remunerated professionals make the daily journey from Southport to the south side of Manchester, as do many health and key workers. That’s why this route had far more value than the route to Manchester Victoria.
“There is also the onward connections to other places such as Manchester Airport and to other parts of the country. It would be a double-hit. The professionals who live in Southport and work in Manchester make a big contribution to our economy. How can we retain them, and attract more people to come and live here, if we cut connectivity.
“It also poses a risk to our visitor economy, people who want to visit Southport from other parts of the country would likely look to come via Piccadilly. Cutting the service would remove that option. There are other viable options for reducing congestion without having to cut this service.”
According to OPSTA, the short-term axing of the route in 2018 caused much anxiety and stress for commuters. Many people struggled to get to work on time using alternative routes and, in some cases, had to give up their jobs.
Southport BID chief executive Rachel Fitzgerald is leading a drive to rethink and expand Southport’s economy. She would like to encourage the growth of other sectors such as professional services and digital so the town was less reliant on leisure and hospitality.
She is very concerned about the possibility of losing one of the rail links with central Manchester. She said: “Good connectivity is absolutely critical to growing Southport’s economy in the years to come.
“We want to attract young professionals to come and live in the town, either taking advantage of opportunities here or choosing a great quality of life while commuting to cities such as Liverpool and Manchester.
“I think we all need to make our voices heard on this. People living in Southport now rely on this service to get to and from their jobs. I would urge as many people as possible to contribute to the public consultation.
Deadline for submissions to the consultation is is 11.59pm on Wednesday, March 10. OPSTA is asking people in Southport to contribute. Click here to access a PDF with a set of questions. You can then email your response to firstname.lastname@example.org
You can also post your response to: MRTF Consultation, 3rd floor, Department for Transport, Great Minster House, 33 Horseferry Road, London SW1P 4DR.