Following a 22 year campaign to make Handforth Station more accessible to all passengers, it has been announced today (Thursday, 4th April) that the station has secured Government funding to make it step free.
The Department for Transport has named Handforth as one of 73 stations to benefit from the latest £300 million being ploughed into the network as part of the Government's Access for All scheme.
Friends of Handforth Station have campaigned for over 20 years to secure funding to improve access and with the support Handforth Parish Council, Cheshire East Council and Northern Rail a bid was submitted to Government last year. Subsequently Ms McVey met with Transport Secretary Chris Grayling setting out why Handforth needed improving.
Rail Minister, Andrew Jones is to visit Handforth Station today and be given a conducted tour by the Friends of the Station's Founder and President, Mike Bishop and Andrew Backhouse, Chairman of the Friends of Handforth Station.
The minister had asked to see the enhancements the group had undertaken at the station ranging from floral displays, preservation of both historic and new international station signs to artistic flags, sculptures and other artworks all involving the local community, especially young people.
Mike Bishop, Founder of FoHS, said "Since the formation 23 years ago, the group have campaigned for access to both platforms for those with any type of disability, parents with baby buggies and all struggling with heavy luggage for an alternative to the current 23 steps. All the Artworks and TLC have also served to raise the profile of the station to ensure that the station would be recognised by all in the rail industry, politicians and grant funders.
"After pursuing numerous options for access the group was encouraged to apply to the government's access for all scheme, and were able to bring many players on board to produce a 156 page bid to the DfT, which included 20 letters of support, including one from 30 residents of a local residential home, local organisations, businesses, local, county and national politicians and the rail industry. This support from all in the community has continued over 20 years including initially from MP, Martin Bell OBE to the current M P, Esther McVey."
Andrew Backhouse, Chair of FoHS added ""To complete the application, Handforth Parish Council, Northernrail and Cheshire East Council provided funding and support to ensure we were able to get the professional research that was needed. Handforth is a community that likes to work together, regardless of politics. Many helped with letters and petitions and so Friends of Handforth Station are delighted to celebrate another milestone in getting rail better used.
"The success of this grant application to Access for All is testament to the work of the Friends of Handforth Station, the officers of Handforth Parish Council, of Cheshire East Council and of Northern in working productively together on a project of common interest. It also a testament to the vision and hard work over the last 22 years by Mike Bishop the Founder (and now President) of the Friends of Handforth Station.""
Tatton MP Esther McVey said: "I am absolutely delighted that we have been successful in this bid. In the election campaign in 2017 I met and worked with local residents and campaigned for these improvements. They are desperately needed and are vital to ensure everyone who wants to use the station can access it, whether that be disabled or elderly people, families with pushchairs or people carrying heavy bags.
"We have a growing population and access to the station allows residents to get to work and to surrounding cities and towns. At the moment we have the problem that disabled people or those with pushchairs have to drive to Wilmslow to get on a train which is ridiculous."
Ms McVey added: "The 35 steps to each platform are hard to navigate for many people and it is the difference between someone being able to travel independently or relying on others, or having to use a different station. When I met Transport Secretary Chris Grayling to discuss the bid I was very clear how difficult it was for many constituents and what a difference the improvements would make. I stressed we desperately needed these improvements and I am glad he saw how important it was. The Friends of Handforth have worked tirelessly on this issue and together with support from other agencies the hard work has paid off. I look forward to hearing more from the DfT as to when the funding will be available and we can get this moving."
Transport Minister Nusrat Ghani said: "Everyone should be able to access our rail network and I am pleased to announce that Handforth station will now become a fully accessible station in the next stage of the programme. Esther McVey has been campaigning to make Handforth step free so it is safer for all passengers, especially those with restricted mobility or parents with pushchairs and I am delighted to be able to announce that the hard work has paid off."
Ms McVey added: "This upgrade to our station will ensure disabled people have the same access to travel as everyone else and will help people travel easily and without additional cost, time or stress."