The Funders View
The Leader programme in the South Pennines includes funding for projects that fit under the European heading of “Services for the economy and rural population”. To us as a funding body, this project ticked all the boxes as it improved a vital community service, giving more people easy access to public transport for employment or leisure. The project was passionately championed by Steeton-with-Eastburn Parish Council who worked in partnership with Bradford Metropolitan District Council to deliver the project.
Where is the Project?
Steeton & Silsden Railway station lies roughly mid-way between the towns of Keighley and Skipton in the Aire valley on the edge of the South Pennines. The railway tracks, the river Aire, the Leeds Liverpool canal and the dual carriageway A629 run the length of the valley bottom and separate the two villages of Silsden and Steeton.
The Project Story
The Aire valley at this point is wide and flat, the river meanders sluggishly and the fields are fertile but often waterlogged. This is a notorious flood plain, regularly resembling a lake rather than farmland. The canal hugs the slightly higher land along the northern edge of the valley but the railway and the main road plough straight down the middle. When they first built the Steeton and Silsden by-pass it was literally mired in controversy, because of the boggy conditions the road surface quickly resembled, a rollercoaster and very soon it all but disappeared beneath silt and sand. Reconstruction costs were enormous, as were the repercussions.
“That wasn’t the only thing they got wrong”, declares David Mullen a local Parish councillor and champion of the project, “Before the by-pass, there was a level crossing over the railway, cars were always backed-up at the crossing, but pedestrians had level access across the lines. Building a bridge has been great for vehicles, but the route for pedestrians became difficult and downright dangerous.”
Barely hiding his exasperation David continued, “The means of crossing platforms should have been thought through properly in the first place”.
In response to local concerns about pedestrian safety, ‘Silsden and Steeton Joint Transport Working Party were formed, David Mullen tells me, “We made a site visit and walked from the west-bound to the east-bound platform on the designated pedestrian route, it took us more than 20 minutes and one of our group, a wheelchair user confirmed he would have been unable to do it without help.”
The Steeton & Silsden railway station does not serve pedestrians well, in order to cross between platforms there is a long walk, there are two flights of steep stone steps and before the construction of the new footway there was a considerable detour including two road crossings without any pedestrian services such as lights, a zebra or a pelican crossing.
It is a very busy road with heavy-traffic, moving at high speeds and sight lines are obstructed by a roundabout. Anyone attempting to cross would be extremely vulnerable and to do so twice would be doubly dangerous, to do so in a wheelchair, pushing a buggy or dragging heavy luggage would be nigh-on impossible.
David Mullen continued, “Just look at speed of the traffic, it was a no-brainer, you either took your chances in the road - facing the oncoming traffic, or you did a Linford Christie across the slip-road and back.”
An extension to the existing footway was needed, only a matter of 50 yards or so, just to connect from the bridge to the approach ramp on the east-bound platform.
Plans were drawn, funding sought and the footway was eventually constructed with help from amongst others the Pennine Leader Project. There is now no need to cross and re-cross the road and it has shortened the journey distance between platforms meaning faster, safer, shorter journeys.
Just getting from one platform to another still means a long trek with two flights of steep steps and anyone with limited mobility is still faced with a considerable detour - but this detour is well-surfaced, reasonably level and traffic-free.
David Mullen said, “I knew it was worth it, when a young woman, a wheelchair-user said to me, ‘I can go out now without having to rely on my Mum’.”
Projects Vital Statistics
Population benefiting : large numbers, being the first Metro station on the line into Leeds it is a heavily used by commuters, there is a large rural, semi-rural and urban population in the vicinity. However rail users come from far afield, estimated 700,000 footfall per year.
Businesses benefiting : difficult to quantify
Jobs created/retained : difficult to quantify, but must improve access to work for large numbers of individuals.
Villages supported : very many, survey of rail users show commuters from Burnley, Preston, Blackburn, Skipton, Halifax, Ilkley and Settle.
Other sources of funding : Bradford Council - disabled access to transport fund, Steeton-with-Eastburn Parish Councils Ward Council Investment Fund
Sustainability : there are more plans in line to develop disabled vehicular access to the east-bound track.
Project outputs and outcomes : access to the Steeton & Silsden Station considerably improved.