Correspondence with South Gloucestershire Council

Correspondence with South Gloucestershire Council

30 January 2020

Dear Chairman and members of Pilning Station Group

Thank you for your email correspondence of 24 January 2020.

WECA and the West of England Authorities have embarked upon an ambitious plan to invest in connectivity to support  growth and sustainability with public transport including rail as an integral of the plan.  Based on a vision which supports business, communities and sustainable growth the West of England Joint local transport plan (JLTP) sets out the priorities to guide investment .  For rail which has the potential to expand and carry more people reducing car use and adding to the resilience of our local network the focus is on the new stations and routes to be delivered as part of the MetroWest project.  The project includes 5  new stations and  a new link to Portishead as well as more services on the Severn Beach line to Bath and to Yate/ Gloucester. In addition new stations are under development at Charfield and Portway.

Our new MetroWest rail network is a significant investment in the West of England’s railways that will give 50,000 more people direct access to the rail network and 180,000 will have better services to and from existing stations.  This work is well advanced and significant funding has been secured to move soon to the delivery phases making this the first priority for rail investment.   Improvements to Pilning station are not currently part of this programme,  and the local resident population is limited in number and currently served by Severn Beach station. For Pilning station to be considered in the future for investment it would have to meet the rigorous requirements of the DfT business case process which it is understood could not be met at the moment. 

Regards, Executive Member for Planning, Transportation and Strategic Environment *

* PSG hold the name of the responsible officer, but chose to withdraw it for the purpose of this publication

30 January 2020

Thank you for your message. I have passed your response to the Group, and a further clarification has been requested –

You say that, according to your understanding of the situation, Pilning cannot meet the requirements of the DfT business process. Maybe you could clarify your reasons for saying this?  One of the basic requirements of this process is the availability of the Network Rail feasibility study, and we have already asked you to give Network Rail the go-ahead to conduct such a study. Once it has been completed, it will be down to the DfT to decide whether the requirements can be met or not, so at this stage the ball would appear to be in your court. 

I would very much appreciate another prompt response from you – we are holding a stakeholder meeting in the next few days, and it would be good to be able to provide an explanation.

Kind regards, Pilning Station Group

14 February 2020

Please could you kindly provide the clarification as discussed previously? 

Jack Lopresti MP spoke at the House Of Commons yesterday, reiterating the point that regular service must be restored to Pilning railway station ( This is likely to put some wheels in motion. The DfT will need to gather the relevant information to make an informed decision. As things stand, the onus is currently on South Gloucestershire Council to request that Network Rail should conduct a feasibility study and present the results to the DfT. However, you are saying that Pilning station is unlikely to meet the requirements of the DfT business case process. Have the Council already conducted such a study? And if so, please could you share the results?

I would very much appreciate if you could justify the statement you made, so our MP can be fully equipped with all the facts that he needs, to be able to continue the hard work that he is doing on his constituents’ behalf.

Looking forward to hearing back from you.

Thanks and regards, Pilning Station Group

21 February 2020

Thank you for your email

As set out in my original email SGC is working with the West of England Combined Authority on the MetroWest programme which demonstrates unprecedented investment in local rail services in the area. The project includes 5  new stations and  a new link to Portishead as well as more services on the Severn Beach line to Bath and to Yate/ Gloucester. In addition new stations are under development at Charfield and Portway.

My comment in the previous email re  Pilning station not being able to meet the DfT business case process refer to the lack of evidence that I have seen to date to that would meet funding requirements and approvals.  To be clear we have not carried out a business case appraisal of the potential for enhancements at Pilning and to undertake such a process would be lengthy and expensive.

I have to admit that I am a bit confused by your statement that the onus is currently on South Gloucestershire Council to request that Network Rail should conduct a feasibility study and present the results to the DfT. It is my understanding that Pilning Station enhancements do not feature in the work programme / aspirations of Network Rail. Any work to consider the case for Pilning would need to be commissioned, funded and led locally.

Yours sincerely, Cabinet Member for Planning Transport and Strategic Environment

24 February 2020

Many thanks for the clarifications. I hear what you are saying.

First, if you re-read the press release that I emailed you on 14 January (attached again), you will see that, according to Transport Focus, Network Rail have confirmed that their local team is aware of the significant commercial developments in this area; however, they haven’t been formally approached by the local councils or Great Western Railway (GWR) about a proposal for increasing capacity at the station. If GWR or the local councils contact Network Rail, they will conduct a feasibility study and share findings, so an informed decision can be made about the future of the station. This process cannot be initiated without such a go-ahead being given.

Second, five new stations is great, but none of them will help the residents of Severnside, visitors to the Wave or employers and employees at Western Approach Distribution Park. You are telling us that, in your opinion, Pilning will not meet the DfT requirements. But with respect, it would appear that this is not based on actual research, as you admit that no business case appraisal has been carried out. You go on to say that any work to consider the case for Pilning would need to be commissioned, funded and led locally. So why won’t you use the opportunity to apply for the Restoring Your Railway Fund (, which the government created exactly for stations like Pilning, and why won’t you let Pilning be considered in the Government’s rail improvement programme (, which is currently underway and gathering speed? What about the investment of time and money that the local residents have put into Pilning station since 2016, led by Pilning Station Group, resulting in a 900% increase in usage since 2014 despite the service being reduced to one-direction-only in 2016? What about the railway data that we have been collecting for the purpose, which is readily available now for bolstering the case for Pilning? If nothing is done now, this one-in-a-lifetime opportunity, as well as a lot of work already put into the case, will be wasted. Is this really in the Council’s best interests?

I agree that the MetroWest programme demonstrates an unprecedented investment into our local rail services. But the two issues here are that
1. There has been very little investment made in the many years prior to this, so something drastic has to happen  
2. We live in unprecedented times, when many English Councils (including South Gloucestershire) have declared Climate Emergency. Declaring an emergency is all very well, but the Council must do a lot more to get people out of their cars and onto public transport, if that is what the current policy is. The South Wales Main Line is the first and only electrified line that runs through our area enabling passengers to leave a smaller carbon footprint. Therefore the Council should support anything that leads to more locals using it, rather than playing a circular logic game with the industry – GWR saying they don’t want to stop trains and Network Rail arguing that they don’t want to spend money on Pilning because GWR don’t stop trains…

The word “conspiracy” comes to mind. One could be excused for thinking that SGC are working together with Network Rail, the DfT and GWR to maintain a business case that Pilning needs to be neglected. Network Rail is a multi-million-pound industry with a statutory duty to serve the public. In the light of the current HS2 debate it seems like closing a station on the mainline is a “cheat” to increase the frequency of fast trains. Therefore, South Gloucestershire Council could be seen as acting as an accomplice to denial of services to people who live or work in Pilning and the wider area in order to get more trains between Cardiff and Bristol and reduce overcrowding. But instead of being honest, the industry pretends that nobody wants to use Pilning station. There must be a reason why they make this claim, instead of admitting the truth – so perhaps the Council might be able to shed some light on the true reason?

In actual fact, if Pilning station were restored, the island platform extended for local westbound trains to stop in the loop, and fast services allowed to overtake them going past the current platform 2; and similarly, platform 1 extended beyond the Up loop, again, to allow faster services to overtake the stoppers, Pilning could actually help with the conflicting needs of fast and slow traffic, and therefore be a solution rather than a problem!

The vision for Pilning station could be so much wider: – with the new motorway junction built on the M49 and Pilning station, being only a short distance away from it, this could be an ideal location for a Park & Ride facility – outside of the built-in area, with lots of car parking spaces, and direct services to Wales, Bristol Parkway and the East, Gloucester and the North, Portsmouth and Brighton via Bath, in addition to the existing South West route to Taunton, Exeter and beyond. Room can be made at Pilning for a bus / rail interchange. If only people in power would not avert their eyes from it, because this seems to be a difficult project.

And finally, think of the fact that the first known petition to enhance services at Pilning is dated March 1873 – 147 years ago. Remember the more recent campaign run by local resident Jonathan King between 1990 and 2014. Our campaign today is a legacy of decades of the station’s neglect. By ignoring the situation around Pilning station, you are not resolving any issues, instead, you are worsening the old problems and creating new ones.

I look forward to hearing back from you.

Kind regards, Pilning Station Group