Baschurch is a large village 8 miles north-east of Shrewsbury, and you’ve probably never heard of it. The 2011 census records a population of 2,503. It sits in beautiful countryside and is unlikely to attract much attention.
Now Baschurch has a story to tell – not about the claim that it is the last resting place of King Arthur, but of its railway station, and plans to re-open it. The station is on the Shrewsbury – Chester line and opened in 1848. Its popularity peaked in 1913 but decreased until its closure in 1960 under the Beeching cuts.
The Guardian reminds us: “…Beeching’s report, The Restructuring of British Railways, outlined plans to cut more than 5,000 miles of track and more than 2,000 stations. Dozens of branch lines that linked villages with market towns were rated egregious loss-makers to be culled, along with great chunks of mainline.”
Baschurch is one of those villages cut off from its nearest market towns, Shrewsbury and Oswestry. It has now grown with a number of new housing developments in the area, and has become a larger satellite village.
The members of Baschurch Railway Station Campaign (BRSC) who are seeking to re-open the station, explain: “Baschurch and the surrounding area’s population has increased hugely, and people of necessity have to travel significant distances daily to achieve their education, employment and social ambitions. This often means lengthy and frustrating congested road journeys on infrastructure that cannot cope, and extremely bad environmental outcomes.”
It is clear the way forward is the restoration of the railway station, which is enthusiastically supported by local residents. A recent public meeting in July 2022 arranged by BRSC had over 250 attendees and five speakers. Professor John Whitelegg (professor of sustainable transport at Liverpool John Moores University) remarked that he had never seen such a large turn-out in his years of assisting railway campaigns.
On track to Net Zero
At the meeting Helen Morgan (Lib Dem MP for North Shropshire, recently replacing Owen Patterson) identified the benefits: ending isolation for village communities, relieving congestion on the roads to larger towns in the area, and particularly emphasised the contribution to climate change and Net Zero targets.
Professor Whitelegg agreed that Shropshire has an urgent need to reduce car travel; he said that Shropshire has not yet addressed the goals of the National Transport Decarbonisation Policy, with direct carbon dioxide emissions of 37%, amongst the highest in England, where the average is 24%.
BRSC’s campaign has not always met with success. A feasibility study concluded in 2007 that reopening the station “would not make financial sense”. The BBC reported on another meeting held in 2009, where Owen Patterson referred to this previous study: “This could be an interesting idea but it would be expensive.” The campaign continued in 2011 when the BRSC wished to commission another feasibility study, but the request for funding was declined by Shropshire Council.
In 2021, matters appeared to progress, with the launch of a petition to Shropshire Council and the Secretary of State for Transport but the council response was disappointingly vague: Councillor Cecilia Motley said: “Rather than pre-judge where the greatest benefits may come and potentially undermine any business case which could integrate with a broader and holistic transport strategy, the council will await the outcomes of the LTP [Local Transport Plan].”
Support for the campaign
Things have certainly changed; in the public meeting on 15 July 2022, Dean Carroll (Shropshire Council Cabinet Member) assured the audience: “We are 100% with you and behind you.”
This change of heart is due to a collaboration between Baschurch Parish Council and housing developer Shingler Homes. In November 2021, the Shropshire Star reported that the proposed development for building homes in Baschurch would include a car park for the station.
Shingler Homes have now submitted plans to build homes in Baschurch, and have committed half an acre of land to a 60-vehicle car park for the railway station, without which the station project would fail. As this is linked to the planning permission application, Dean Carroll stressed the importance of people taking every chance to make their voices heard as soon as possible, to represent clear and specific views on how this plan would affect the lives of villagers. It’s a now-or-never opportunity.
By way of encouragement for the public to get involved, Professor Whitelegg assured the audience in July 2022 that the goal of the BRSC is “possible, desirable, achievable, and the right thing to do”; there have already been several successes in the UK, citing the re-opening of the central Carlisle line, as well as campaigns in Hereford and Aberystwyth.
This is not just a local issue. In January 2020, the government committed £500mn to the ‘Restoring Your Railway Fund’. In June 2022, Wendy Morton (MP for Aldridge-Brownhills) announced “…further development funding for nine rail schemes under the Restoring Your Railway Fund. This brings communities in Yorkshire, Staffordshire, County Durham and beyond one step closer to being reconnected to the rail network, with the transformational levelling-up opportunities for jobs, homes and education that public transport provides.”
The speakers at the meeting spoke in more human terms: opening the station would avoid isolation of communities in rural areas, especially retired people without transport to local towns. It would encourage young people to stay rather than migrate for jobs, and it would bring income to those communities through tourism, all of which are not just local issues, but experiences felt nationwide in rural communities.
Whether Baschurch would ever be eligible for such a grant is not yet known, and for the moment, the next stage of BRSC’s plans rest with local planning permission for housing with a car park.