Council leader says Soham train station must re-open in order for town to grow

Cllr James Palmer

Cllr James Palmer - Credit: Archant

The rapid growth of Soham will make re-opening its railway station an “absolute imperative”, according to the leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council.

Cllr James Palmer said the town had grown “very quickly” in recent years and added that he expected many thousands more people to move in over the next 15 years, making the case for re-opening the station of “primary importance”.

He said: “Now Soham currently is 11,000 people. It will probably grow to around 20,000 people in the next 15 years. So there’s no two ways about it. The more people that live here, the more people will use the railway.

“I know people in Wicken are very excited for example that Soham railway station might open. It’s only a mile across the fields on the footpath from there.

“Also people in Fordham, Isleham etcetera are also excited that Soham will have a railway station. So we know that it would be well used. I know the people want it.”

Cllr Palmer said it had proven “very difficult” in turning the dream of re-opening the station into a reality but added that he was doing “everything I can” to make it happen.

“It’s of primary importance in my opinion,” he added. “Soham has grown very quickly. People want to live in Soham. It’s a fantastic place. Of course they would want to live here. But anybody can put houses up. Any council can do that.

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“It’s infrastructure that must come first. So if we are to grow the town the way the town wants and to get the facilities that people who live here expect now, in my view a railway station is an absolute imperative to the growth of a town.”

Cllr Palmer said that his best guess for when the station would open would be 2018/19, adding “It’s doable. It’s possible. I will do everything I can to make sure it happens.”

Earlier this month, it was revealed that the town would have to wait at least five years to get its rail station re-opened - unless agreement could be reached sooner to foot the £6million bill.

The Government’s announcement of cash for the regions at the start of July excluded mention of either Ely’s £8million bypass or Soham station.

A year after both Cambridgeshire County Council and East Cambridgeshire Council disclosed a business plan for re-opening Soham station was being prepared, council officials said the scheme was still “pencilled in” for the tail end of Network Rail’s 2015-19 proposals.

It remains a “prioritised” scheme within the forward plans for the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) which hopes for Government funding of £1million across 2016/17 and 2016/18 to part pay for it.

However whether the Government backs that bid – or helps with the rest of the costs- remain unclear and meanwhile LEP’s start date of 2016 looks optimistic. The station closed in 1965 and a consultant’s report last year suggested it could generate around 300 trips a day into Ely and Cambridge and would be viable.

A LEP spokesman confirmed Soham station remained in their strategic plan “but it is not in our proposals for funding. The earliest start date is 2016/17 and the Government said we could only bid for 2015/16.”