Cottam Parkway will be a new boarding point on the line between Preston and Blackpool - and it is hoped that it could be just the ticket for reducing congestion on the roads in and around Preston city centre, by encouraging commuters and visitors to let the train take the strain.
A 250-space park and ride facility is planned for the station, which will spring up within the next three years on land west of Lea Road and east of Sidgreaves Lane.
Featuring bike storage - and served by a new segregated cycle lane - it will give travellers the option of cutting out the car from their journeys altogether and so also help to tackle pollution in the area.
The station will also boast a staffed booking and information office, toilets, waiting area and vending machines.
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Lancashire County Council’s cabinet has now given the go-ahead to the advertisement of a contract to deliver the primary elements of the £24m scheme, for which funding has already been secured.
Planning permission has yet to be obtained - but cabinet member for highways and transport Charlie Edwards said that identifying a contractor at an early stage in the process was a “relatively innovative” approach intended to enable the authority to “get more bang for our buck”.
The Conservative politician added: “We can build [a] cost picture for this project now, rather than go down to the stage where we have got the planning permission, we’ve done the design…and then the contractor turns around and [says], ‘Well, actually, I can't deliver that.’”
County Cllr Edwards said that the appointment of a contractor at this point would mean the successful bidder could work alongside the council in designing the scheme and advising about materials - and so helping to reduce the overall cost. The estimated value of the construction contract on offer is £15m.
Labour opposition group leader Azhar Ali welcomed the progress on the project, but warned that inflation would make it “really difficult to keep [it] on budget”.
Cabinet member for finance, County Cllr Alan Vincent, agreed - and said that while the authority had done its best to “future-proof” the plans, labour costs for the build would be tough to estimate.
The prospect of a station at the proposed location on the South Fylde railway line - close to the former site of Lea Road station, which closed in 1938 - dates back around a decade.
However, it was only after Lancashire scooped £22.3m from the government’s Transforming Cities Fund more than two years ago that the concept started to move out of the sidings. The Preston, South Ribble and Lancashire City Deal has stumped up a further £2.1m.
Cottam Parkway will have a catchment area of around 12,000 households across Cottam, Ingol and Lea. The population in North Preston is rapidly growing, with more than 6,000 new homes expected to be built in the area in the two decades up to the mid-2030s.
Transport bosses hope that the facility will prompt a switch to sustainable travel, with the station set to be served by a new bus stop, as well as the improved cycling infrastructure and pedestrian footpaths on the approach. The park and ride car park will also be fitted with electric charging points.
Meanwhile, the station building will feature a 'green' roof - to encourage wildlife - and solar panels to help power it.
Accessibility has also been a key consideration in the plans, with the blueprint featuring a footbridge and lifts to link the platforms.
If approved, the station would connect to the under-construction Preston Western Distributor route - which will link Blackpool Road and Riversway to a new junction on the M55 at Bartle when it opens early next year.
A roundabout is proposed on the forthcoming Cottam Link Road and a new road from it will then head south on the western side of Sidgreaves Lane and bridge the Lancaster Canal.
Before joining Cottam Parkway car park, the access road will cut across Sidgreaves Lane, where a new T-junction is proposed. It then continues east, parallel to the new station car park, and culminates in a turning area for station pick up and drop off.
A segregated cycle track and footpath would be created along a section of the existing Sidgreaves Lane and over the Quaker Bridge. The cycle track would also link into Preston’s local cycle network on the Preston Western Distributor Road scheme and along Darkinson Lane.
A bus and cycle gate link is proposed to join the turning area to the existing Lea Road, preventing through traffic between Lea Road and Sidgreaves Lane.
Following County Hall’s approval of the procurement process, Preston City Council's cabinet member for planning and regulation, Cllr David Borrow, said that the scheme would be “a great addition to the existing transport on offer”.
“In line with the Department for Transport’s plans to boost the Preston City region, the Cottam Parkway project will provide more sustainable travel alternatives for people to choose, which will help reduce road traffic congestion, promote a greener transport system and allow for growing and developing communities, businesses and visitor numbers to our city,” Cllr Borrow said.
It is hoped that Cottam Parkway will also open up access to the wider railway network - by better connecting more residents in the suburbs of Preston to the mainline station in the city centre. Traffic congestion could also be reduced in Blackpool by giving those living on the ourksirts of Preston - and who commute into the resort - another transport option.
A planning application is expected to be submitted later this year and construction work is forecast to take around 18 months to complete. Depending on the length of time it takes to acquire permission, that means the facility could be open as soon as 2024.
Bidders for the contract will have to prove that they have the necessary capability and experience to deliver the project and, once they have cleared that hurdle, their pitches will be judged on two sets of weighted criteria.
Quality and technical considerations will be weighted at 70 percent of the bid assessment process - including the “social value” that the bidder can offer, perhaps such as using local labour - with the remaining 30 percent based on the proposed price.
However, a report to cabinet members acknowledged that because the design of the scheme is currently at an early stage - as intended under the procurement approach taken by the county council - any contractor “would not be able to present a verifiable estimate of the works cost” at the point they make their bid. Firms will instead be expected to provide “target costings”.
In a statement after the cabinet meeting, County Cllr Edwartds said: "We're proud to be developing these plans for a brand new railway station to benefit the emerging communities, new home developments and other transport improvements in North West Preston.
"By providing alternatives to car use, it will help to reduce congestion in and around the city centre and elsewhere on the road network.”