by Phil Marsh

Wolverton Works set for demolition after St. Modwen and Knorr-Bremse reveal regeneration plans

Published: 9th September 2014

New life for the Worlds oldest continuously open railway works?

The property development company St. Modwen purchased many railway yards and property at and since privatisation 20 years ago and its latest development plans have been released for consultation.

They suggest that all Wolverton Works’ buildings will be demolished and that half of the 37-acre Works site will be taken out of railway use. Much of the Works land is disused with several Victorian built trainsheds housing the former sawmill and boiler room already sealed off because of their dangerous condition following the collapse of the roof in several areas.

The property development company St. Modwen purchased many railway yards and property at and since privatisation 20 years ago and its latest development plans have been released for consultation.

They suggest that all Wolverton Works’ buildings will be demolished and that half of the 37-acre Works site will be taken out of railway use. Much of the Works land is disused with several Victorian built trainsheds housing the former sawmill and boiler room already sealed off because of their dangerous condition following the collapse of the roof in several areas.

World’s oldest continuously open railway Works

The works opened in September 1838 and the 175th anniversary celebrations were overshadowed by worries that the place might close. It entered Administration on July 29 2013 when Railcare, who operated the Works, ran out of cash despite a good forward order book.

The site was, and still is, owned by St Modwen who sub-leased it to Alstom until 2017 and Railcare took this lease over. After four weeks in Administration, German company Knorr-Bremse purchased the business on August 27 by which time 50% of the Works’ staff had been made redundant and train companies had removed their trains from the massive sheds.

The site overheads were huge and with less than 40% of the trainsheds being used it makes economic sense to modernise the facility. The redevelopment plan indicates that the listed trainsheds will be demolished and replaced by new fit for purpose railway workshops. This will release half the land for commercial non-rail related redevelopment and St. Modwen, and tenants Knorr-Bremse say that this will safeguard the rail businesses on site and benefit Wolverton.

St. Modwen says that after exploring demand for what type of development will support the town say that modern new premises for Knorr-Bremse will secure hundreds of jobs now whilst supporting additional future jobs.

The company has won several huge train renovation contracts this year with several about to commence guaranteeing work for several years. More staff have been taken on and the workforce is now greater than in Railcare days.

History repeats itself?

This plan comes 25 years since British Rail Maintenance Ltd unveiled a similar development plan which resulted in a huge Tesco and car park being built on Works land. The new plan would see what is thought to be Aldi, another discount foodstore as neighbours to Tesco.

Another large chunk of Works land including the former 1889 built Royal Trainshed and the Works sports ground was developed from 2006 by Places for People. While winning architectural awards, the flats proved difficult to sell and the latest plans indicate that in addition to yet another shop, a new carpark and residential development, including family homes and affordable housing will be provided.

They said:

St Modwen say that “this significant private investment will deliver a package of community benefits in the heart of Wolverton town centre, including a new discount foodstore, a mix of new homes and modern new premises for its growing railway business tenant”.

Gary Morris, senior development manager at St. Modwen commented: “In its heyday, the Railway Works site in the heart of Wolverton Town Centre was a thriving railway business community employing thousands of local people. We want to preserve the much cherished rail-related use at the Railway Works and re-invigorate the site to deliver more shopping choice, family housing and job opportunities for Wolverton’s community.”

Gary Morris added: “Our business model is all about delivery and we have a strong 25 year track record to prove it. We have a desire to get things moving now and are planning to present outline proposals for public consultation in autumn this year. These proposals have already been welcomed by Milton Keynes Council in initial discussions and subject to planning, we will be driving forward the delivery of a new discount foodstore for the town centre as an early phase of the Masterplan.”

Royal connections

The Royal Train has been based at Wolverton Works for over 150 years and since 1989 based in a secure compound within the Works. This is at the eastern end of the Works and is understood to enjoy a separate 125 year lease signed at rail privatisation guaranteeing access rights through Wolverton Works’ land and onto the national network. This absolute right of access was also included when the site was sold to Alstom and then sub-leased to Railcare.

What next?

Public consultation is now underway and will carry on for several months with the expectation of a formal planning application for the whole being submitted by the end of 2014 with a decision by early Summer 2015. The project if it goes ahead will take up to five years to complete and will be structured to suit Knorr-Bremse’s business needs.

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