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6 Apr 2010 : Column 293WH

I understand that a project board of key stakeholders has been formed to consider the best option for rejuvenating Kidderminster station. The board includes representatives from Worcestershire county council, Wyre Forest district council, Network Rail, London Midland, the Severn Valley railway and the Kidderminster railway museum. Public consultation on the detailed design of the station forecourt, including road and public transport access, was launched on 29 March, and the hon. Gentleman has put his comments on road access on the record. The plans envisage a large bus exchange, and improved car parking and drop-off areas. Worcestershire county council is writing to stakeholders, and I understand that it is happy to arrange a meeting to brief the hon. Gentleman on the project's details.

We were happy to receive bids for small-scale rail schemes such as that at Kidderminster station in the refresh of the regional funding allocation advice that we requested from the regions last year. The west midlands region advised that the Kidderminster scheme was a priority for funding, and we responded positively to that advice in July last year.

The regional funding allocation programme, particularly local authority schemes, are benefiting from record levels of spend at present, but clearly we need to exercise due caution, as any responsible Government would do, when considering requests that would add to the current commitment. Although I appreciate the urgency of the project, I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a guarantee that funding will be available for the scheme, but I can promise that the proposal is being carefully considered. Similarly, although the local delivery group responsible for the London Midland portfolio of stations has identified Kidderminster station as a candidate for the second tranche of funding from the national stations improvement programme, decisions on the second tranche schemes are not expected to be made until later in the year.

I understand that there has been quite a bit of debate about the design of the new station building, with a number of stakeholders keen to ensure that the design meets heritage objectives and provides a suitable gateway to Kidderminster. In particular, people have argued-the hon. Gentleman has done so eloquently today-that it should be more in keeping with the character and feel of the Severn Valley railway's Kidderminster Town station. I understand that Network Rail has been considering using its modular station design at Kidderminster. Although the system is still in its infancy, there are already a number of examples of modular stations on the network at Greenhithe, Mitcham Eastfields, Corby and, most recently, Uckfield. Modular stations may provide an economical way to build new stations or rebuild existing facilities, and by minimising energy use they offer an excellent example of sustainable design. That addresses one angle-environmental impact-that the hon. Gentleman asked about.

Dr. Taylor: I hope that I am mistaken, but the only module that I have seen is a hideous, glass, square box.

Chris Mole: I was worried that the hon. Gentleman might draw that conclusion, although I assure him that designs that I recently saw for a sustainable station at Accrington were a little less angular and, although
6 Apr 2010 : Column 294WH
modern, it would fit into its setting. We realise that modular designs do not provide the appropriate solution for all stations-for example, where there are buildings of historic or architectural interest. I understand that a possible compromise at Kidderminster might be to provide a modular building in terms of functionality with a modular interior single-storey station building, with external aspects to complement the heritage themes associated with the Severn Valley railway and the local area. I hope that such a modular design would allow the newspaper shop about which the hon. Gentleman is concerned to be retained. I am sure that whenever possible Network Rail wants to retain a tenant that provides it with an income.

The year 2010 marks the 40th anniversary of the operation of the Severn Valley railway, which is one of the most popular heritage railways in the UK. The original Severn Valley railway linked Hartlebury near Droitwich with Shrewsbury, and was constructed around 1860. Ten years later, the line was absorbed into the Great Western Railway, and eight years after that a new spur was opened to Kidderminster. Trains to and from Kidderminster used the existing mock-Tudor station building on the existing line linking Birmingham, Stourbridge and Worcester. The Severn Valley railway carried both freight and passengers but, despite being popular with tourists from the west midlands, its fortunes declined after the second world war. Passenger services were withdrawn from most of the route in 1963, and freight was withdrawn in stages from the same year.

Thanks to the efforts of rail enthusiasts, much of the line has been reopened in stages and currently operates between Bridgnorth and Kidderminster. The Severn Valley Railway Preservation Society started in 1965, and operated its first trains five years later. The line was then extended towards Kidderminster, with the final stage opening in July 1984. Kidderminster Town station is a modern construction-there is a mock-Tudor theme here-in a traditional Great Western style and contains facilities suitable for a heritage railway, including catering and retail. The Severn Valley railway suffered a major setback in 2007 with severe flood damage leading to the closure of much of the preserved railway. Sterling efforts by many people and organisations have enabled reconstruction of the route, and last year those efforts paid off with almost 250,000 passengers, only marginally below the record level of patronage in 2005. The line now employs around 70 people, but much of the work that provides visitors with an excellent experience is done by the numerous volunteers who enable the railway to operate. I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to everyone involved with the Severn Valley railway, including the hon. Gentleman, which is a wonderful example of successful local enterprise.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman has been reassured that, although it is not possible at this stage to give any guarantees on funding, work is progressing on plans to rejuvenate Kidderminster station so that passengers will be able to look forward to an improved end-to-end journey experience in future. We share that vision of the railway station as a gateway to both the community and the network.

Question put and agreed to.

1.58 pm

Sitting adjourned.

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