This meeting, which was attended by representatives of Stockton , Billingham & Seaham Town Councils, was addressed by Pete Myers, Northern Stakeholder Manager, supported by Bob Whitehouse from the Bishop Line Community Rail Partnership (CRP). Pete described the differences between a Rail User Group (RUG) and a CRP. Whilst a RUG was a voluntary campaigning body, a CRP needed to be designated by the Secretary of State for Transport and had a Board with representatives of the Train Operating Company (TOC), Local Authorities (LAs) and other stakeholders. CRPs had been introduced twenty years ago to promote uneconomic, mainly rural, lines with declining usage, but were now seen as appropriate for involving the community in promoting more urban railways.
As part of its franchise commitment, Northern was required to support and develop community involvement through CRPs and station adoption groups. There were already 19 CRPs within the Northern franchise area including the Esk Valley, Bishop Line & Tyne Valley. Northern provided funding to established CRPs to cover a part time officer and office and administrative expenses, but before a CRP could be established the Secretary of State required a business action plan to be presented, with widespread local support from LAs, MPs and the business community. Additional seedcorn funding may also be forthcoming from local business and from the Association of Community Rail Partnerships (ACoRP) for specific projects.
The current Northern franchise was governed by Rail North, a Board of eleven LA representatives including Tees Valley and North East Combined Local Authorities (NECLA) and three from the DfT. This had a sub-group, the Community Rail Executive Group, which appointed representatives to the CRP Boards. A further requirement of the Northern franchise was to establish a North East Business Unit (NEBU) since the North East operations were largely geographically separated from the rest of Northern’s operating area. This in turn was overseen by the North East Rail Management Unit (NERMU) consisting of representatives from the LAs comprising Tees Valley& NECLA.
Once a CRP was established, the TOC was required to consult it regarding marketing opportunities and also to provide a timetabler to work on proposals for new or revised services. It was agreed that our next approach should be through NERMU to determine LA support for a Durham Coast CRP.
Pete also spoke of the Station Accessibility Fund for which bids could be made depending on footfall, population demography etc. Headingley, Garforth and Hebden Bridge were being funded in CP5 and bids were in hand for Sunderland and Workington in CP6. We were advised that Stockton Council were working on proposals for Billingham.