Yesterday I finally felt well enough to venture out onto the hills. The winter lurgy (I suspect a Doctor would have told me it was bronchitis) has effectively had me grounded for a whole month! I decided not to push it too far and so just headed on out to Church Stretton and the Long Mynd, which is where I go when I don’t really have a plan.
At Church Stretton station I alighted the train to be approached by a local resident undertaking a survey about the local train service. This small line connects Crewe and Cardiff and the franchise is held by Arriva. Was I aware that the franchise is shortly up for renewal? the The local community are worried about a diminution of service. We had an interesting a illuminating conversation.
I can remember the last time this train franchise came up for renewal. The service was cut back mainly it seemed to speed up the journey time between the main train stations and interchanges, Cardiff, Shrewsbury and Crewe. On of my regular stops was Craven Arms but the early morning train there vanished. Returning from Church Stretton there is now a large gap in the afternoon timetable.
If the train service was diminished, I was asked, how else would I get to Church Stretton? The bus? Well, yes I probably would take the bus although I know this timetable well. One of the problems faced by the local community was that the Shropshire Country Council was ending its subsidy on these bus routes as part of their financial cuts. So, the train service could be cut back as the same time the bus services were reduced!
We talked about what this would mean. For me it would cut back on the impulse days on the hills (like yesterday). If access became more problematical I’d probably go less often and would probably prioritise two or three day walks. This would have quite an impact because it is clear that even on a damp Monday in winter there were others just taking a trip out like I was. Across the year I am probably the area two days a month.
Church Stretton is not at the very fashionable end of South Shropshire (Ludlow and Bishops Castle). Here is a community that is saved from being a retirement centre by the location of the area’s secondary school. Over the last decade I have quietly watched a community focus on small economic gains across a wide area of activity. This was the first town in England to adopt a Walker Friendly designation (of which they are very proud). There is a smattering of B&B activity here, one large hotel and a couple of busy campsites. But on a day-to-day basis there is always a smattering of walkers, mountain bikers and hill runners coming out for a day on the hills by train. In the afternoon and evening I don’t think I have ever got on a train home without at least another one of two walkers accompanying me. In the spring, summer and autumn it is far busier than that.
Casual walkers like me don’t always contribute much to the local economy but we do contribute. I like to buy my lunch at Mr Bun the Bakers. And, like yesterday, that afternoon timetable gap meant that I ended up dropping into The Bucks Head for a pint. On longer summer trips that is often supplemented by a stop along the walk. Small contributions multiplied by many casual visitors soon mount up!
This is not a major gateway town or village like Kendall but it easy too see how important the outdoor world is to the local economy. The village is still able to support a pretty decent outdoor station which many towns or small cities cant do these days.
As I left the Station a group of local residents were tidying up the train station flower beds. This is David Cameron’s Big Society in action. To be fair, over the last decade or so the town looks a lot better as a result of the active engagement of local people but they are not doing this because of political ideology but because of the need to keep the place looking attractive to visitors. But now we’re entering the realm of Theresa May’s Shared Society. What might that mean?
I suppose Arriva Trains and Shropshire Council do talk to each other but there is no requirement for them to consider a wider range of factors than the critical ones about franchise renewal and so on. So, we may well have two serious decisions being made — at the same time— that will cut back local transport services.
Should this scenario develop (and I don’t know that it actually will) there will be a clear impact on this local community? I for one won’t be there as often. Others may fall back on the car but the man A49 is already a busy and dangerous road.
Are we in forget another period of fighting for public transport access to the hills?