Here’s why Crewe should be the home of Great British Railways

The Cheshire town is one of six to have made the shortlist in the national competition

Crewe has been named as one of the six contenders to become the home of Great British Railways (GBR). As the only town on the shortlist, it will face off against the five cities of Derby, York, Newcastle, Doncaster and Birmingham.

The competition will see one of the six picked as the location of the headquarters of GBR. The creation of the new organisation, which will take control of the country’s railways, was announced by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps last year.

Crewe is widely seen as one of the favourites, alongside Derby and York. This is partly down to its arguably unrivalled railway heritage.

Before the shortlist was announced, more than 40 towns and cities put forward their bids. Potential locations were asked to address six key points for why they should be chosen: alignment to levelling up principles; connected and easy to get to; opportunities for GBR; value for money; railway heritage and links to the network; and public support.

Here is how Crewe meets those criteria according to the Expression of Interest (EOI) submitted to the GBR Transition Team:

With a significant part of the town centre levelled, there’s no doubt that Crewe is in need of levelling up. It was once a thriving hub of railway manufacturing but that faded as Crewe Works scaled back its operations.

The EOI states: “Crewe’s growth has always been tied to the railways. As investment in the railways faded, so didCrewe’s fortunes. The need for levelling up Crewe is often masked by the wider success of Cheshire East as a whole, but the statistics speak for themselves.”

These statistics include:

– Six out of 10 of Crewe’s wards are in the 10% most deprived nationally

– £5,000 lower household income that the Cheshire East average

– Average life expectancy six years below England’s average

– 84% of 16 to 17-year-olds in central Crewe are NEET (not engaged in education, employment or training) compared to the Cheshire East average of 2.3%.

But the bid explains a number of projects that could boost Crewe’s future prospects, outlined in the council’s 10-year strategy. These include: the HS2 hub station and growth corridor; investment in the town’s roads, pavements and cycle lanes; plans to grow housing; and developing ‘clear career pathways’ for young people.

The EOI statement continues: “GBR will benefit from some of the significant investment that has already been secured to start delivering this 10-year strategy. This includes £14.1 million from the Future High Street Fund and £22.9 million from the Towns Fund.

“£13m has been secured for a new Institute of Technology. £45m has been committed for a new HS2 Hub Station. The Council is progressing several new retail, leisure and housing developments in the town centre.

“The area around the station has been allocated as the ‘HS2 Station Hub’ strategic employment site, providing opportunity for new investment in offices, hotels and amenities, providing a fantastic opportunity for GBR to become the landmark occupier, helping to shape the future regeneration of Crewe.”

The bid explains that Crewe’s ‘central and strategic position’ as well as its ‘unrivalled connectivity’ makes it the perfect location. It lies close to the M6 and its station is a major railway junction, with six rail lines ‘offering 360-degree connectivity and providing direct access to three domestic and international airports’.

It is also a key rail junction for the freight industry as well as being described as ‘the only station on the mainline connected to all national and regional capitals’.

It will also see its journey times to other locations slashed once HS2 arrives. Crewe to London will be 55 minutes while Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester will all be accessible within 30 minutes.

The EOI continues: “Crewe is already home to many of GBR’s customers, suppliers and wider transport industry. In addition to the rail engineering sector, it is also a key strategic hub for the rail freight transport industry and passenger rail operators.

“Crewe offers a unique opportunity to grow a strong supply chain cluster around a new headquarters located close to Crewe Station.”

The EOI states that Crewe is still ‘home to a thriving rail industry’ with many service firms and businesses operating in the town. These include Alstom, Aecom, Arup, Jacobs, Mott Macdonald, Arriva, Unipart Rail, Keltbray, Freightliner, DB Cargo, DRS, Locomotive Services Ltd, Haywood & Jackson, LEC5 Rail Personnel, TBM and Chrysalis Rail.

It also has the Crewe Engineering UTC and Institute of Technology at Cheshire College, which aims to ‘create an opportunity for Crewe to be known as a centre of excellence for rail skills’.

The EOI statement reads: “GBR will have an opportunity to become a key partner in the delivery of the 10-year strategy for levelling up Crewe. A key part of this plan is the redevelopment of the Crewe HS2 Hub Station Area into a thriving business district.

“Future phases will see further development of commercial and industrial space, creating an opportunity for rail industry organisations to coalesce around the station. By getting in at the first phase of the development GBR can have a big say in shaping the design of the scheme and future initiatives to promote rail supply chain and innovation opportunities.”

There are also exciting plans to invest in our growing creative and cultural sector with the ambition to drive participation with our communities through skills development and by attracting many more visitors. We would welcome the opportunity for GBR to collaborate on these plans and participate in the varied programme of annual events such as the Lumen Festival of Lights and TrAction festival of Science and Engineering.

“The Town Investment Plan also aims to transform the connectivity between the Station Hub area and new retail, leisure and housing developments in the town centre through enhanced public realm and pedestrian and cycling routes. This creates opportunities for GBR to collaborate on the design of environmental schemes such as new pocket parks and e-bikes.

“The Council is also developing plans for a District Heating Network to provide affordable and sustainable heating solutions to businesses and residents. This is currently being piloted in the town centre with opportunities to expand the network to new developments around the Station Hub.”

Crewe owes its existence to the railways with the arrival of its station in the 1930s thanks to Grand Junction Railway followed by Crewe Works. This transformed what was a small rural village into a ‘hugely significant hub of the UK’s railway industry’.

The EOI statement reads: Rail has been in the blood of the local people ever since. Multiple generations of families have worked in the rail industry.

“At its height, 20,000people were employed at Crewe Works. Although no longer such a major employer, a significant proportion of the workforce is connected to the railways. This rail heritage is celebrated at the Crewe Heritage Centre and is recognised in Crewe Alexandra FC’s nickname – ‘The Railwaymen’.

It continued: “This town played a critical role in pioneering rail investment across UK in the 19th and 20thCenturies. As the importance of the railways faded, so did Crewe’s fortunes.

“The UK is now embarking on the next evolution of rail transformation and Crewe has the connectivity, the skills, the industry base, the track record, the opportunity and the passion to be at the heart of these plans. GBR’s arrival would kickstart the next chapter in our rail-led regeneration.”

Due to its station being one of the major railway junctions in the country, the town still retains great links to the network. But it also still attracts many rail or rail supply businesses.

This includes Alstom, which recently chose its Crewe site for the production of the bogies on the 200mph HS2 trains. Freightliner is also investing in a new maintenance facility and Avanti West Coast Partnership has established its talent academy in the town.

The EOI statement says attracting GBR to Crewe ‘would be the catalyst for the regeneration of the area’. It is hoped the town will become a ‘new mixed-use neighbourhood’ which will connect the station to the ‘revitalised’ town centre.

It reads: “Land values in Crewe are just 5-10% of those in nearby Manchester, making it an extremely attractive place to invest. At c.£15psf, headline office rents in Crewe are between 84-87% lower than Birmingham (£37psf) and Manchester (£38.50psf), which means we can offer potentially huge savings compared to big cities in the North, Midlands, London and the South East.

“Selecting Crewe creates a win-win situation for both GBR and Cheshire East Council and its partners. By being present at the first stage of the Station Hub development as landmark occupier, GBR can have a big say in shaping the design and development of the scheme to ensure that it is tailored to your requirements.

“At the same time a pre-let from GBR backed by the government’s covenant would significantly make the scheme much more attractive to private sector investors, helping to reduce the viability gap and significantly reducing the need for public sector funding.”

Crewe has a population that is proud of its railway heritage. Many either are, have been or have family who were employed at Crewe Works.

Cheshire Live recently spoke to the granddaughter of train driver Len Carter, who was pictured in February 1967 with his head in his hand as the last steam locomotive pulled away from Crewe Works. Kate Southwell said her granddad would have been ‘thrilled’ at the prospect of Crewe becoming the headquarters of GBR.

A survey was recently run by Cheshire Live asking people in the town if they were in favour of the bid. An overwhelming 97% of respondents voiced their support, joining the likes of record producer Pete Waterman, who is also backing the campaign.

The EOI statement reads: “Our place brand and values, developed with the people of Crewe, are intrinsically linked to the town’s industrial and railway heritage and the opportunities here now and in the future. Now the town is talked of as a people-powered place full of potential, with a self-starting attitude, engaged communities and the motivation to get things done.”

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  • 05:33, 15 JUL 2022

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