Published: 13th December 2014
The owners of Wolverton Works, property developer St. Modwen, has unveiled initial plans detailing their prosed regeneration of the 37 acre site at Wolverton at a public consultation in the town.
Following strong local lobbying, the plan being consulted on now includes provision for a Wolverton Works Visitor Centre, the oldest longest continually open railway Works in the World. St. Modwen has suggested that location for a Visitor centre would be at the east end of the huge long Victorian building known as The Lifting Shop.
St Modwen told Rail.co.uk that they were looking at constructing a modern frontage to this old building as a transitional statement between the old and the new. This was not considered suitable or appropriate by many attendees at the consultation as it defeats the purpose of a Heritage Centre.
St. Modwen’s brochure shows the proposed location of this Visitor Centre but their accompanying image illustrates a Repair Shop which will be demolished to make way for the new railway Works long with the rest of the site’s buildings.
The new railway works has been allocated space where the east and west repair shops currently stand, linked by a traverser at the east end of the site. These are next to the proposed discount foodstore which will be built on wasteland - adjacent to a huge Tesco also built on former Works land 25 years ago.
Those familiar with how the current Works operates have voiced opinions that the new layout may not be the best to enable the passage of a train through the Works. When a train arrives by rail, it is split into individual carriages and these are then taken to the various workshops for repair and overhaul before ending up in the paintshop.
The carriages are then recoupled together for final testing and commissioning and this obviously requires an area of track and a suitable layout to facilitate testing and dispatch to the main line.
At the moment, electric trains are remarshaled into their correct formation outside the repair shops and are taken into the electrical test bay at the west end of the Works next to the Royal Train shed. Once the train has been tested and signed off as safe, it is shunted through the Works and onto the main line for onwards travelling back to its home depot and back into service.
The proposals now being consulted on do not appear to allow such a ‘rail trail’ operation to take place so the track and Works design may be revisited.
Rail.co.uk spoke to several attendees at the consultation event and they were unanimous that:
1, Not enough of Wolverton’s heritage was being saved.
2. A decent sized Heritage Centre must be provided as an educational and historic resource for the town which owes its existence to the railway Works.
3. They did not want a discount foodstore next to Tesco bringing more congestion – especially when Netto have already expressed interest in a location 600 metres west by a new housing estate.
4. That there should be a last chance to look around the Works at an Open Day with profits going to help fund the Heritage/Visitor Centre
5. The St. Modwen heritage plans for the new housing area were not appropriate.
St. Modwen is proposing to exhibit artefacts reflecting the industrial heritage (plant and machinery) around the site as well as erecting heritage information boards on the famous 3 metre high brick wall which runs along the Works’ boundary.
The old bricks it is suggested could be reused to clad new buildings giving a historic aspect which is to be welcomed. None of the buildings are listed but the whole area has been designated as a Conservation area reflecting the location’s history.
Several open spaces are proposed and these will incorporate old railway tracks and make reference to the railway heritage of the site but the pans are full of ‘could be’, ‘maybe’ and what has been done elsewhere but firm details will be worked up.
The Works employed 5000 people 100 years ago when it was at its zenith. The workforce dropped below 1000 around 25 years ago and when Railcare went into Administration the workforce numbered about 250 staff and contractors. Half of these were laid off but now the workforce numbers 300 and the forward order book is good with some Crossrail work recently awarded to Knorr-Bremse the new Works’ owners.
Three areas of housing each featuring a different design and format are proposed. At the western end a formal grid system housing estate would be created following the ‘Wolverton grid system’ - built from the 1830s. A second less formal set of canal-side houses overlooking the Grand Union Canal is planned and a third set of accommodation around the new railway Works which will be designed to reflect the site’s industrial heritage.
St Modwen is seeking views on these plans and they will then develop the detailed planning application to be lodged with Milton Keynes Council early in 2015.
If Planning Consent is obtained, hoped for by summer 2015, the site will be progressively demolished and replaced with houses, a new shop and a railway works. The discount foodshop could open in 2016 followed by housing and the new Works with the project completed by 2020.
If the plans go through, could Wolverton Works still claim be the oldest and longest continually operating Works in the world?