CAMPAIGNERS wanting the rail route reopened between Skipton and Colne have welcomed a government minister’s comments about meeting Lancashire MPs, after the high-speed HS2 rail plans for the north were scrapped.

The Skipton-East Lancashire Rail Action Partnership (SELRAP) said it is ‘much encouraged’ that government minister Huw Merriman MP has agreed to talk to Pendle, Hyndburn and Burnley MPs regarding the 12-mile section.

Campaigners want a new line along the old route and fast trains  between east Lancashire, Skipton, Bradford and Leeds. They also want a new station at Earby. These would bring multiple benefits for east Lancashire and also re-establish an important trans-Pennine route across Lancashire and Yorkshire, they believe.

Four of the five boroughs along the east Lancashire-Yorkshire route are in the most-deprived 10 per cent of English council areas, they say. Deprivation levels have worsened and east Lancashire towns are falling further behind the rest of the north, SELRAP says.

The group said it welcomed Mr Merriman’s recent comments  to Hyndburn MP Sara Britcliffe in parliament on October 26.

During a questions session, which included the government’s HS2 decision, Ms Britcliffe said: “Reopening of the Skipton to Colne railway line, which is about 11 miles of missing track, will be fundamental in linking Lancashire and Yorkshire back up. Will the minister consider progressing this line to the next phase of the rail network enhancements pipeline, which includes drawing-up a full business case for reinstatement? Will he meet me and MPs including Pendle’s Andrew Stephenson and Burnley’s Antony Higginbotham to discuss it further?”

Mr Merriman said he would be pleased to meet the MPs and added: “The department has been working with Transport for the North, Lancashire County Council and the Skipton-East Lancashire Rail Action Partnership group to strengthen the case for reopening that line. But we will meet and discuss that further.”

SELRAP said it it has been calling for progress but there has been a Treasury block on any new funding commitments.

Peter Bryson, SELRAP’s chairman, said: “We were much encouraged to hear this announcement. It was a  carefully worded question [in parliament] but, more importantly, a rehearsed response and it surely means that, at last, east Lancashire will get some proper levelling-up.”

But he added: “Our group and east Lancashire voters will be holding this government’s feet to the fire. There will need to be some real progress to convince us that this isn’t just hollow promises. We look forward to working at pace with the minister and his Department for Transport to get on with linking east Lancashire to the jobs and opportunities of the powerhouse cities of Leeds and Bradford.”

SELRAP said it has worked closely with the Department for Transport and Network Rail to develop a business case for the Skipton to Colne project. The route would serve a combined population of over 250,000 people in east Lancashire. Train journey times to Leeds and Bradford would be transformed, if the link can be reconnected.

With the scrapping of the HS2 leg to Manchester, prime minister Rishi Sunak said money would instead go to other transport projects. Bradford, which has two separate city centre stations,  was earmarked for a new station. Further details are awaited.

In the summer, Mr Merriman toured a number of railways including the Bentham line between Skipton, Hellifield, Carnforth, Lancaster and Morecambe.

Meanwhile, Ribble Valley Council leader Stephen Atkinson recently highlighted talks about better train links north and south between Clitheroe, Hellifield, the Yorkshire Dales and Manchester.