Robert Hampton

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2nd April 2013

Gimme Shelter
Posted by at 8.06pm | 1 response | Trains

I never thought that Aigburth station – a small, genteel station towards the southern end of Merseyrail’s Northern Line – would be at the centre of controversy.

I have used the station on a near-daily basis for the past nine years and during that time I have seen several welcome improvements, including the installation of a new toilet, the provision of automatic doors and the introduction of an electronic customer information system.

At the beginning of March I was pleased to see a notice appear in the booking hall (click to embiggen), promising another upgrade:

Aigburth Station Customer Information

It’s true – Network Rail have decided that Aigburth station is worthy of further investment, and we are getting some lovely new facilities. The waiting room on the Liverpool-bound platform (which has been boarded up with weeds growing out of the roof for as long as I can remember) is being brought back into use and fitted with new heating and lighting. Lovely stuff, especially if next winter brings weather conditions as harsh as those we’ve experienced in the past few weeks.

Imagine the HORROR, therefore, when people turned up to catch their train to work a couple of weeks ago and saw this:

Aigburth station canopy partly removed

The roof on the existing platform canopy was stripped away overnight, with the broken wood panels and skylights piled up on the embankment behind the station by Network Rail contractors.

Naturally, locals assumed the worst, and confirmation from Network Rail that a “bus shelter” type structure was due to be installed caused a flurry of action. A Save Aigburth Station web site rapidly appeared, followed by news coverage on BayTV Liverpool, Liverpool Confidential and the Liverpool Daily Post.

The story really gained traction, however, when the Mersey Tart mentioned it (after I tipped him off, natch).

Then the big guns got involved: first local councillors Patrick Hurley and Tina Gould spoke out, then the constituency MP, Louise Ellman, “intervened” in the dispute. A protest was held at the station one evening and attracted, by all accounts, a reasonable crowd. I passed through the station just as the protest was winding down and was amused to see some of Merseyrail’s “security response” team there – was this a coincidence or were they genuinely expecting trouble to flare up? 🙂

Network Rail’s PR department sprang into action and this professional-looking notice appeared at the station:

Second Notice at Aigburth

This was followed a few days later by a proper Network Rail notice which replaced the Merseyrail branded one shown at the top of this post. I took a photo of it, but it came out blurred. However, Network Rail also sent a letter to local residents containing much the same information. I have reproduced it below for your viewing pleasure (click on each page to read it):

Network Rail letter regarding Aigburth station (page 1) Network Rail letter regarding Aigburth station (page 2)

It’s a detailed response to the concerns raised. The main point is that the canopy is not being removed completely, but will be shortened and made narrower. The “bus shelter” was planned to be installed in an empty space on the platform where the removed part of the canopy used to stand.

Had Network Rail done this PR exercise in the first place, they might have got away with it. One of the accusations levelled at NR is that they tried to sneak the station modifications through. I don’t think this is really fair: the planning application was submitted to Liverpool City Council in accordance with all relevant rules and regulations.

The planning application is available online (it has been since the end of last year) and includes some diagrams showing exactly how the station would look once the works are complete. Note the shortened canopy (the old canopy extended along the whole length of the structure shown below).

Network Rail plans

Speaking dispassionately – as someone who actually uses the station every day – I can’t get too worked up about these plans. I don’t like to see railway heritage stripped away, but nor do I want to see stations preserved in proverbial formaldehyde, never altered or modified to suit modern needs. The canopy was starting to look tatty, and on a typical wet and windy winter day the actual amount of shelter it offered was minimal. A moderate breeze gets the rain coming in sideways, so you get damp no matter where you stand. As Network Rail’s letter points out, it was a headache from a maintenance point of view as it extended beyond the platform edge and over the tracks, so any work on the structure had to be done overnight or in an engineering possession, when trains aren’t running.

The station isn’t listed and isn’t in a conservation area, unlike neighbouring Cressington. Let’s put the hyperbole about “vandalism” to one side: This is not on the scale of the destruction of the Euston Arch, nor the threatened demolition of London St Pancras in the 1970s. Rather, it seems to be a practical approach to the station’s role as a stop on a 21st century suburban rail network.

This saga has now gone all the way to the top: Save Aigburth Station reports Network Rail’s chairman, David Higgins, has become involved, and ordered a rethink of the plans, meaning that the removal of what’s left of the canopy has been postponed indefinitely.

So it’s a victory, of sorts. The only problem is that the works to the station have been left unfinished. We are assured that work on the waiting room is continuing regardless, but the canopy and associated works could be delayed for months. In the meantime, Aigburth’s regular users have to see the eyesore of the skeletal remains of the canopy, and we only have a tiny, temporary wood and felt structure to keep the rain off. That’s no good for anyone.

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One Response
  1. Pingback by Razing the roof « Robert Hampton
    11th May 2013 at 9:15 pm

    […] – an act of shameless corporate vandalism on the most beautiful station in the world. Here’s my blog on the subject, should you wish to refresh your […]