Notice of Motion A
Proposed by: Councillor Max Wilkinson
Seconded by: Councillor Victoria Atherstone
Honeybourne Line extension
That the extension of the Honeybourne Line from Cheltenham Spa Station south to Shelburne Road has been an ambition of this town for almost four decades.
That the current proposal to extend the line requires partnership working between Network Rail (landowner), GWR (developer), Gloucestershire County Council (transport authority) and Cheltenham Borough Council (authority responsible for managing the Honeybourne Line).
That as delays to the project were experienced, costs increased significantly due to inflation in the construction market, as well as other factors, including the specification of the project.
That this project is a key part of Gloucestershire County Council’s wider sustainable transport ambitions, linking Cheltenham to Gloucester in one direction and to Bishop’s Cleeve in the other.
The strong support from Cheltenham people for this extension.
That after significant progress, the project is currently delayed indefinitely after government funding cuts to the rail industry.
That the identified funding gap will require further contributions from various sources.
That this authority does not typically benefit from budgets for strategic transport, has a budget gap of its own to meet, and therefore does not have any scope for funding this project from general budgets.
The petition by Cheltenham and Tewkesbury Cycling campaign, signed by more than 1,000 residents.
Work with partners in the project, primarily Gloucestershire County Council, to explore ways to bridge the funding gap, including reviewing the opportunity to prioritise the Honeybourne Line Extension as an allocation for Community Infrastructure Levy funding.
Additionally Council notes:
The potential for a northern extension of the Honeybourne Line, between the Prince of Wales Stadium and Swindon Lane.
That this land is owned by Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway, but remains unused.
That Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway’s historic ambition to extend the steam railway track into the town centre is unlikely to be realised for various practical reasons.
The potential for this corridor of land to become a sustainable transport link and linear park as far as Swindon Lane, improving public health and boosting the environment.
The potential for this land to help link the main railway line and the town centre to Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway, boosting local tourism.
Officers engaged in strategic planning to explore policies to protect this corridor of opportunity.
Officers to engage with Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway to discuss the extension of the Honeybourne Line northwards with a view to pursuing opportunities for the environment, leisure and tourism in a way that is mutually beneficial.
Officers to report back on progress with planning policies, and discussions with Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway at, or before, the Council meeting on 11 December.
In proposing the motion, Councillor Wilkinson began by highlighting CBC’s commitment to driving the sustainable transport agenda, since commissioning the Connecting Cheltenham report in 2019 and working with the highways authority since then to deliver it. He said the Honeybourne Line is a cherished and much-used green corridor, and there is a long-running campaign to extend it southwards from the station to Shelburne Road, and to protect the corridor northwards for future extension.
The southwards extension comprises a few hundred yards only, but would cut out the busy and dangerous Gloucester Road for cyclists and walkers. However, it is a complex project, involving Network Rail, the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway, CBC and GCC, as well as the Department of Transport. Sadly, after a huge amount of work by all, this year’s financial situation, construction inflation, and Network Rail’s additional safety requirements, mean the project will be delayed further.
He thanked officers – Phil Williams at GCC, Tracey Birkinshaw, Jackie Jobes and Simon Hodges at CBC – for keeping the project on track. The county council is still interested in delivering the scheme, which forms a short but important stretch of its cycle spine project, and is open to an increased contribution from CBC. The Gloucester and Tewkesbury Cycle Campaign have a petition of over 1,000 signatures in support of this extension, and can still be signed via their website. The motion commits CBC to exploring the options – including community infrastructure levy and developer contributions – to continue work on this missing link.
The second part of the motion focusses on the more long-term northbound extension, which would ideally continue beyond the Prince of Wales Stadium as far as the Honeybourne Tunnel. This land is currently owned by Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway, and the motion proposes the exploration of policies to protect the corridor of land in future strategic plans, and open discussions with GWR to explore the options of a future proposal that would be beneficial to all.
He urged Members to support the motion.
In seconding the motion, Councillor Atherstone agreed that the Honeybourne Line is crying out to be extended southwards, and the 2019 Connecting Cheltenham report highlighted the need to work with transport partners and community groups to achieve this. It would improve accessibility and inclusivity, encouraging further active travel; many people choose not to ride bikes due to safety concerns, and the busy Gloucester Road is likely to get worse when the Arle Court Transport Hub is fully functional and Golden Valley development active. She thanked Gloucester and Tewkesbury Cycle Campaign for increasing awareness through their petition, and called on CBC to continue working with partners to find alternative solutions and further funding.
She said a northwards extension of the Honeybourne Line offered a fantastic opportunity to increase environmentally friendly active travel and leisure, and improve connections. She asked Members to support the motion which would allow relevant officers to engage with strategic planners to find ways to protect this very special green corridor of opportunity.
Members made the following comments:
- the GWR has various plans for improvement and expansion, and this may help them finance what they want to do. It would be fantastic if the railway could extend to Stratford. A key point in the motion is to talk to them, understand their proposals for the land, and report back by the end of the year;
- the motion is very messy – it should be easier to recognise the proposed actions and what the motion is trying to achieve;
- it is a shame that the project has stalled, but this is symptomatic of Network Rail which tends to be only concerned with trains rather than cyclists, down times at level crossings, resulting traffic chaos etc. It’s hoped that CBC and GCC will work together to put pressure on the government to allow work on this important link to continue;
- the northern extension to create a longer and safe off-road cycle route would be a really good extra deliverable, providing extra links, a safer way to get to the race course, a longer running track and pleasant green environment. Protecting this corridor via the planning process is a good first step, followed by pressure on CBC’s partners and Network Rail;
- residents in south Cheltenham are also excited about the southwards extension, which among other benefits will enable school students to travel more safely to Dean Close and Bournside.
Councillor Wilkinson thanked Members for their comments, acknowledging the particular importance of the route for schools in south Cheltenham wards, and the public health benefits of opening this route for walking and cycling route to the northernmost boundary of the town. He took on board and apologised for any lack of clarity in the motion as set out.
- to approve the motion