Regeneration bosses have been accused of delivering a fatal blow to a campaign to re-open a disused Birmingham railway line by submitting a planning application for road improvements near the former Rover factory in Longbridge.
Advantage West Midlands, the regional development agency, wants to re-design the busy A38 traffic island, bring the culverted River Rea to the surface and improve landscaping as part of a £750 million scheme to turn the vast site into an eco-town.
But AWM’s proposal involves using land presently occupied by railway sidings and will put paid to any possibility of re-opening the disused Longbridge to Frankley line for commuter trains.
The move was criticised by Birmingham Friends of the Earth who pointed out that the Longbridge redevelopment scheme, which involves building 2,000 homes and creating 10,000 jobs, is being promoted by the city council and AWM as a leading example of sustainability.
An improved Longbridge railway station and public transport interchange are at the heart of plans being promoted by landowners St Modwen.
The station makeover will still go ahead but the old track, which splits the redevelopment site in half, will be removed.
The council, AWM and St Modwen have abandoned any hope of reinstating the Longbridge-Frankley railway line and have decided to invest in new bus routes instead.
Northfield MP Richard Burden said the decision, set out in the 2007 Longbridge Area Action Plan, was taken after a consultation exercise showed divided views among local communities. People living in Frankley wanted the trains to run again, but others living close to the line were against the idea.
Mr Burden said there was no evidence that the money required to re-open the line would ever be forthcoming. He added: “What we need here is certainty. If there was a plan to get the line opened and a clear source of funding, then that would be fine. But that has never been the case.”
An AWM spokesman said: “The view which emerged from the public consultation organised by Birmingham City Council last year supported a comprehensive town centre development and a high quality bus link to Frankley.
“The potential re-instatement of the heavy rail link was examined and discussed in detail with all stakeholders but was ruled out due to its high cost and adverse impact on the ability to deliver a high quality integrated town centre.
“The vision for Longbridge is to produce a mixed-use development that is attractive, pleasant and vibrant, with the right environment and facilities to ensure that walking, cycling and public transport use are promoted and encouraged.”
Friends of the Earth spokesman Alun Thomas said the communities of Rubery and Frankley, hit hard by job losses when MG Rover went out of business three years ago, could gain substantially from a working railway line.
Mr Thomas said a council study into reinstating the full length of the line showed the project was financially feasible, had the potential for easing congestion on the roads and helping the local economy.
He added: “The greatest gain would be to the development that is planned, to replace large areas of the car plant that have been demolished. Current plans for housing, employment and retail uses will need a carefully planned network of public transport provision if the area is to reach its full potential.
“A decision not to add another community to what could be a good local rail network would be counter productive for Birmingham’s economy and transport systems, and in the long term can only contribute to the climate change crisis.”
The decision to abandon any chance of reinstating the line was described as a “retrograde step” by Martin Mullaney, chairman of the council transportation scrutiny committee.
Coun Mullaney (Lib Dem Moseley & Kings Heath) admitted he was surprised to learn that Longbridge developers had reached an agreement with AWM and the transport authority Centro to get rid of the track.
He said: “The track is there and the intention was to open it up to Frankley. It is simply a question of getting the money from the Government. “But some people think that money will never be forthcoming.
“Personally, I would like to keep open the possibility that the line could be reinstated one day.”