Crewe enters the fight for rail HQ
Cheshire East Council and its partners have formally submitted their expression of interest in housing the headquarters of Great British Railways.
The local authority described its bid as “strong and ambitious,” adding that a Crewe HQ would also benefit many surrounding areas.
Cllr Sam Corcoran, leader of CEC, said: “We have submitted an outstanding bid to show why Crewe is the right and logical choice for the Great British Railways headquarters.
“This is a rail town through and through, at the heart of the rail network and with rail at the heart of the town.”
A commitment to establish Great British Railways was made in May 2021 as part of the reforming Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail. Last October, the Secretary of State for Transport confirmed that a location outside of London would be chosen for the body’s headquarters.
GBR will replace Network Rail as operator of the nation’s rail infrastructure, and also take over the DfT’s contracting of train operations and timetabling.
Although a win of this kind would obviously be a boon to the successful bidder, it is not likely to mean substantial office space – the FAQs attached to government advice for bidders stress that the HQ will house “corporate functions and rail network-wide teams” that will support existing regional and devolved teams.
Meeting space will be needed at the base for cross-regional collaboration, but only a “modest staff” will be housed full-time at the new office. No floorspace requirement has been set out, and it is expected the HQ will be housed in an existing building, preferably publicly-owned.
Nevertheless, great prestige goes with such inward investment, and bids have been submitted or trailed from various locations, with Preston and Barrow among them.
Carlisle has also entered the process, submitting its bid this week with cross-party support locally and the backing of the city’s MP.
Cllr John Mallinson, leader of Carlisle City Council, said: “Carlisle has a long and proud railway heritage, and our bid sets out the many sound economic reasons why Carlisle should be the new headquarters for the Great British Railways. It makes sense for the city to be considered and I’m delighted that we’ve got such great support backing our bid.”
Outside of the region, strongly fancied contenders include Derby, York and Doncaster, while others throwing their hat in the ring include Wakefield, Grantham, Tamworth, Didcot and Swindon.
The current timeline will see an announcement on which areas have been shortlisted for GBR to be made in May, before a non-binding public vote and finally a decision made in summer 2022.
Cheshire East’s Cllr Corcoran added: “We’re proud of our rail heritage and the role the town has played in the growth of the railways but that’s not the only reason why Crewe is the right place for this opportunity – far from it.
“Crewe is one of the most connected interchanges in the country, connecting the nation and serving as a gateway for the North. This means that the possibilities this headquarters brings can flow throughout the country.”
Bidders will be judged on how they measure up to six criteria:
- Alignment to levelling up objectives
- Opportunities for Great British Railways
- Railway heritage and links to the network
- Public support
- Value for money
- Connected and easy to get to
Cllr Corcoran concluded: “GBR in Crewe has to be for Crewe – and the people of Crewe. We believe bringing it here opens up a range of opportunities that will benefit our residents. Our strong rail industry means we have a skilled workforce that is right for GBR in return.”