BURY ST EDMUNDS RAILWAY STATION
BURY ST EDMUNDS RAILWAY STATION
In November 2015 the Trust published a report on the future of Bury St Edmunds Railway Station. Its purpose was to explain the urgent need, in combination with undertaking long neglected essential repairs, to take a holistic approach to resolving the many problems connected with this fine Grade II listed building, which is on the Victorian Society’s national top 60 Schedule of Notable Stations.
The report was sent to the Secretary of State for Transport drawing his attention to the need to ensure that the winner of the then forthcoming 2016 East Anglia Rail Franchise was given the necessary resources to complete the essential repair work and service enhancement.
Following sending the report to the Secretary of State, and the Department for Transport awarding Greater Anglia the 2016 franchise, a meeting organised by the Town Trust and chaired by Jo Churchill MP, was held with all interested parties including the Department, Network Rail, Greater Anglia, St Edmundsbury Borough Council (now West Suffolk Council), Bury St Edmunds Town Council, Bury Society, and Our Bury St Edmunds, at which the future of the station was discussed. The led to the formation of the Bury St Edmunds Rail Station Group (RSG) which is coordinated by the Town Trust.
From the outset the RSG worked closely with West Suffolk Council and Greater Anglia (GA) in order to progress the long outstanding repairs and enhancement of the station. The first phase of the work undertaken by GA was the external repair of the former station master’s house. This was followed by the construction of a new car park, with access from Northgate Street, increasing parking capacity to over 100 spaces.
In October 2019 BTT supported an ‘Access for All’ grant application to the Department for Transport by Greater Anglia for a proposed new northern access to the station entrance. In February 2020 the Department for Transport announced that the application had been successful and awarded Greater Anglia a grant of £688,000 towards the cost of the scheme. The work was effectively completed in August 2022. It has improved safety for all and provides a direct entrance from the north to the current booking hall, saving regular commuters some 18 hours of extra walking every year and, not least, greatly improved disabled access.
Following the completion of the new northern entrance the only remaining major external repair is that to the north-west retaining wall of the station. It was originally proposed that this work would follow on directly after the completion of the new entrance but the work tenders came in considerably over budget. At a site meeting Network Rail explained that in view of a current funding shortfall the Department was giving priority to repairs necessitated by safety shortcomings. A survey of the wall had concluded that despite its current exceptionally poor condition it was safe, even though areas of its handmade 1850s bricks are badly eroded, many need replacing, and much of the wall needs lime mortar repointing. Work on the wall would therefore be delayed.
After considering the position the RSG wrote directly to the Secretary of State in August 2022 receiving a reply by return from the Minister stating that “… the wall is not a safety concern and, in the current very constrained financial climate, what funds it has are being prioritised on issues that are safety related”. We were however reassured that the condition of the wall would be regularly monitored from a safety perspective, and work would be continued to source funding to enable the repair to be undertaken. As at October 2022 it is not possible to predict with certainty the likely delay to this important work but it may be until 2025/26.
Why is the RSG concerned? The line, which dates from around 1850, was designed to take what today would be very light passenger traffic. The high brick embankment to the north-west of the station now supports what is said to be Europe’s 13th busiest freight route as well as playing a key role in regional passenger commuting. The photographs below indicate the current condition of the wall.
Notwithstanding the current problem relating to the north-west wall Greater Anglia have, since the publication of BTT’s 2015 report, carried out major repairs to the station and greatly improved its car parking and access. Although it is not their responsibility under the terms of their lease GA endeavoured to complete the wall repairs, but were thwarted by a shortfall in government funding. The Rail Station Group will continue to monitor the position, and press for this essential work to our nationally outstanding listed station to be carried out as soon as practicable, in order to rectify what is more than thirty years of neglect.