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New commuter town for Edinburgh may never get train station despite promises

Rapidly expanding Winchburgh may not get its promised railway station as costs have soared in a decade and developers question the commuter demand post Covid.

And this week an SNP councillor accused the Labour led administration on the council of being “suckered by the developers.”

But developer WDL said it is still strongly committed to delivering a railway station and supports the use of funds from the city region deal.

Head of council planning Craig McCorriston told a meeting of the development and transport policy development and scrutiny panel (PDSP) that the council had not been allowed to make the station a condition of Winchburgh’s growth - on the command of the government agency Transport Scotland.

READ MORE: New West Lothian schools ready for August term

In a report to the PDSP Mr McCorriston said the only condition imposed could be the delivery of a report on the potential for the development of a railway station.

He told the meeting: “The council has not been party to the commercial discussions between Winchburgh Developments Limited (WDL) and Transport Scotland but the lead developer is now indicating that the cost estimates are not affordable given cost escalation on estimates by the transport authority and other significant transport infrastructure cost pressures.”

It is understood that the increase in costs for the station alone may be around £10 million. Plans for a new station at East Linton in East Lothian including two platforms with an over-bridge containing a lift, and associated car parking , have recently been approved at costs touted as £15 million.

At Winchburgh, a core development area (CDA), the station was one of a range of promised infrastructure upgrades. Others including new links to the motorway network are under way as are works to build a boating marina and a public park. For its part the council is ploughing £62 million into providing new schools. The CDA will eventually see almost 3,500 new homes built in the village.

Mr McCorriston added: “In view of these increased costs and reflecting on the impacts of Covid-19, which WDL suggest will reduce the need for rail commuting, WDL has indicated that it will have to progress discussions on an alternative public transport strategy without reliance on rail transport, unless the balance of funding for the station can be secured from another source.”

The report goes on to say: “The council has recognised the need for a sustainable transport solution focused on a new railway station since the earliest days of identifying the core development area. Part of the attraction of the site is that the main Edinburgh – Linlithgow – Glasgow railway line traverses the site which affords the possibility of direct sustainable transport connections to Edinburgh, Falkirk and Glasgow and easy connections to other parts of the central belt form the expanded community.”

Any other solutions proposed by the developers such as buses, were viewed as “suboptimal,” Mr McCorriston told the meeting.

West Lothian council officers sought permission to explore funding through the city region deal to make up the difference in development budget to ensure the station is built.

Councillor Tom Conn, Labour, voiced fears about the knock-on effects of an increase in traffic to Linlithgow station.

Livingston North SNP councillor Robert de Bold said the council had been sold the Winchburgh development on the basis of a train station, adding “It’s ludicrous that this administration has got us into this situation being suckered by the developers. It’s a massive lack of oversight by this administration.”

Councillor Conn branded that remark as “breathtaking”, adding: “Transport Scotland is a Scottish Government agency that said the council could not put a planning condition on the development of a station. The delay was because of a government agency. It comes down to finance . It comes down to Transport Scotland. I would hope that Transport Scotland does not break the deal.”

Conservative Councillor Chris Horne said it was “ beyond angering” for the community. He added that people buying a home in Winchburgh had been sold a lifestyle, which included easy rail access into the capital.

He added: “For this to happen at a time when we are seeing the build of a motorway junction seems beyond belief. What is imperative is that there’s sustainable transport for the town.

“For it to be laid at the council is a bit rich. It's about Transport Scotland and the developer. We need to hold them both to account.”

Labour's Cathy Muldoon, the panel's chair said : “This PDSP has always been fully supportive of a train station in Winchburgh and we have written to transport ministers. Seriously? How councillor de Bold can blame the council for this when we have had Scottish Ministers on TV saying we were guaranteed a railway station?”

A WDL spokesman said: "West Lothian Council has considered a report on 29 March recommending that it supports in principle a bid for funds from the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal to co-invest in a new railway station to serve the growing community of Winchburgh and its surrounds.

"Current estimates for a new station on the existing mainline have escalated significantly from before the electrification of the mainline and since. Winchburgh Developments Ltd (WDL) strongly supports the suggestion that uncommitted funds in the City Region Deal for unlocking infrastructure potential should be considered for Winchburgh.

"The company, which continues to deliver on the ambitions of the original masterplan for the community, has already worked constructively with the Council and Scottish Government to provide new primary and secondary schools for Winchburgh’s young people. "

Chief Executive of WDL John Hamilton said: “We have always wanted a railway station to serve Winchburgh and our commitment to delivering that is as strong as ever. We are already spending £40 million in the coming 12 months on the new motorway junction and other roads infrastructure with no public sector contribution to those costs. The railway station is a regional transport asset and requires a regional planning solution, involving ourselves, West Lothian Council, National Rail and the Scottish Government. The challenge is on a similar scale to that involved in securing the new schools but what that experience shows is that by working together we can achieve success. It’s essential that we see urgent progress on this now before further development impacts on delivery or increases costs.”

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