Published: 13th November 2015
The proposed redevelopment of Wolverton Works has been the subject of several news items over the last year or so. A second consultation was held in Wolverton on November 10th where the Works’ owners, St. Modwen admitted that there are no longer any taboos about revealing where the Royal Train is kept. The large audience laughed at this admission (not at St. Modwen) as they all know exactly where it is based!
Network Rail (NR) has finally accepted that it can be made public that the nine deep maroon liveried carriages are based at Wolverton. The NR stance that this had to remain confidential placed St Modwen in a very difficult position as they have been asked about the future of this train but have been forbidden to talk about it.
But should anyone visit the Buckingham Palace website, all has been revealed there for years! And given that The Royal Train has been at Wolverton since the 1840’s, its not a surprise to the local population who are used to seeing being shunted into and out of the Works. And on top of that, most Wolverton people have either worked on it or know someone that has!
They had began life in 1972 as prototypes for the standard Inter-City Mark III passenger carriage and were later fitted out for their Royal role at the Wolverton Works, where work on the Royal Train is normally done.
Network Rail manages the Royal Train and owns the rolling stock. Day-to-day operations are conducted by another privatised company, DB Schenker.
The site owners, St Modwen, reiterated that the existing buildings are not suitable for conversion to industrial or residential use in economic or structural terms. But this now puts the outline planning application, due to be heard in the next few months by Milton Keynes Council, in a potentially difficult place.
This is because Wolverton Council recently held a referendum seeking views from the local population on the future of the town. The results clearly showed that the population was in favour of retaining the Works’ buildings with demolition not an option.
St Modwen said that The Lifting Shop, the huge cavernous building could in theory contain up to 60 one bedroom duplex flats, but that there was little or no demand for these according to consultants they had asked for advice from. Five miles away in Northeast Milton Keynes, such flats are bought off-plan before they have been built, so why the difference Objectors are asking.
The developers have also said, (copying the line from Milton Keynes Museum), that that there is neither the considerable ongoing charity funding required or the appetite (based on the need to protect the success of Milton Keynes Museum nearby for the retention of what would be empty buildings, solely for museum or heritage posterity purposes. Current and former Wolverton Works’ staff suggest that this is to do with competition to the museum rather than any other reason.
But in a nod to the area’s place in railway history, St Modwen has said that artefacts and information about the Works being presented in a dedicated heritage and community centre located in part of the Lifting Shop will suffice. This may only measure 30 metres by 30 metres, a tiny area and as it would have a dual use, the heritage part of it will be minute say objectors.
Rail.co.uk’s editor has accepted an invitation to identify artefacts on-site for preservation and the first survey is expected to take place by the end of November, weather permitting. This is because of the parlous state of several buildings and the very real risk of injury entering them and a windy day would create potentially a too dangerous scenario for such a visit.
Architects have identified insurmountable problems in converting the workshops to residential and St Modwen cite the buildings’ dimensions are completely out of step with basic housing requirements. Walls, floors, roofs, windows, electric and plumbing do not comply with housing Building Regulations and would require large scale alterations to obtain insurance. The former Royal Train Shed, converted by Places for People a decade ago, was subsidised by the Government to the tune of £7 million and this subsidy is not now available.
So far as office accommodation is concerned, St Modwen say that modern offices or industrial use are in demand in Milton Keynes, but not in older refurbished buildings. These buildings are also the wrong way round says St. Modwen to allow a better flow of trains. If they were re-arranged by 90 degrees, then the traversers would no longer be required and the workstream would become easier.
This is owned by Network Rail and should the planning application go through, the existing 25 year old shed will be demolished and replaced by housing along the Grand Union Canal. So what are the options for the train?
It could remain inside the new Works to be built for Knorr-Bremse enjoying modern facilities and working conditions. The train could be moved to another depot, such as Toton near Nottingham, or even nearby Bletchley. Or given that the development will not affect the train for three or four years, would the age of the Royal passengers preclude any further use of the train?
St Modwen purchased the 38 acre site in 2001 and are well known as property developers. Their last set of financial results show that the company declared a profit of over a million pounds a day for the first half of the current financial year.
They also say that this redevelopment will safeguard jobs in the town and preserve a railway works there for the future. The lease Knorr- Bremse has expires in three years so would they walk away from the existing Works if the plans fall through? Nobody knows but they are a major player in the rolling stock renovation market and the Industry could not afford to lose them.
The British Rail built trains will carry on being used for at least another 15 years and they need to be renovated every decade at least. They also need to be made DDA compliant in the next few years by installing wheelchair space and accessible toilets for example.
The work has to be carried out somewhere. St Modwen says that Knorr-Bremse have made it clear to them that ongoing rail operations would only be possible in a new rail facility. And given its jobs and places to live at the top of everyone’s agenda, a new Works is likely.