The Churnet Valley Railway is delighted to announce being the receiver of not one but three grants courtesy of the local council, all of which will help develop the railway as its strives to reach its long term destination of Leek.
Last week the Moorlands Partnership Board, which is run by Staffordshire Moorlands District Council to consider matters related to environmental improvements, approved a grant of £22,000 towards assisting the reinstatement of a railway line from Leekbrook Junction to Leek.
This funding will be used to cover the cost of the planning fee and a number of studies including a full Tree survey; Flood Risk, Noise and Vibration survey; and a Habitat, Bat and Reptile survey. These will all be completed prior to the submission of a full planning application that is expected to be ready later this year.
The MPB have also approved a second grant of £4,000 that will be added to the railway’s current Cheddleton Appeal, which is looking to raise £75,000 before the end of July to cover the cost of purchasing the building from Staffordshire County Council and some essential repairs to the roof of the building. Whilst the appeal got off to a fantastic start with over 50% of the monies raised within 3 weeks, the appeal is still open with any excess raised being promised to assist with further repairs and development of the station building.
Finally a third grant of £7,300 towards the reinstatement of a waiting room at the Heritage Lottery funded Leekbrook station has been approved by SMDC for the railway’s supporting charity “The North Staffordshire Railway Company (1978) Ltd”.
Executive Directors Dai Larner reported to the SMDC: "The Churnet Valley Masterplan (adopted 2014) identified the potential for the extension of the canal and railway as an opportunity to address the employment, tourism and leisure needs of the area. The masterplan specifically included the reinstatement of the heritage rail link between Leekbrook and Leek (Cornhill) as a key development strategy action.
"While this line will be operated as a heritage line, it has the potential to be adopted and used as a branch line (subject to funding in the future) to establish a rail connection between Leek and Stoke-upon-Trent. The Leekbrook to Leek line extension is a strategic first step of delivering a corporate objective to reinstate the rail connection to Stoke and mainline rail."
Leader of Staffordshire Moorlands District Council Sybil Ralphs said the latest investment was a major step forward and that a planning application for the heritage line from Leekbrook to Leek would be submitted shortly.
She said: "Bringing the rail line from Leekbrook to Leek has been a long-standing ambition of the Council. It is an important part of the council's Churnet Valley Masterplan and our plans for Cornhill.
"We have been working with both the Churnet Valley Railway PLC and North Staffordshire Railway Compay to make this happen. I am pleased to say that we are recommending a package of measures to bring new investment into our important rail heritage.
"This package includes giving access rights to Churnet Valley Railway over the council-owned track bed and making a planning application to enable the investment in the line.
"In addition we have worked with the supporting charity the North Staffordshire Railway Company to assist with their investments in Leekbrook and Cheddleton stations. This is a major step forward and we will continue to work with both companies to bring this long held ambition to life."
With regard to the Leekbrook Station, Mr Larner said in his report that the cost of the rebuilt waiting room was estimated at £25,000. This building will further enhance the site following the lottery-funded restoration of the Grade II listed Signal Box in 2014, and the renovation of the station platform all of which formed part of the Churnet Valley Living Landscape Partnership development.
He said: "A Peak Leader application has been submitted for £14,700 to cover approximately 70 per cent of the costs, whilst a further £3,000 is anticipated to be raised by the North Staffordshire Railways Company's annual raffle. This leaves a shortfall of approximately £7,300."
Should the Peak Leader application be successful, it is hoped work on the new building could start this year and be ready for the main 2018 summer season. The building is to be built using the original drawings with slight alterations made to enable wheelchair access.
This all comes at an exciting time for the railway as it continues with its 25th Anniversary Celebrations. Having just operated the popular summer gala, which for 2017 included a cider festival, the line and surrounding area is now gearing up for the hugely popular Rail Ale Trail that sees 3 days of activities offering over 200 real ales across the railway and the adjacent pubs.