A brief tour of Britain’s least used stations

Empty tracks at empty stations: British Steel Redcar station. Image: Red-Oktober/Wikimedia Commons.

Those among you who haven’t yet received your copy of the Office of Road & Rail Estimates of Station Usage 2016-7 (don’t push, now) might not quite realise the scale of disparity in exactly how many people use Britain’s various stations. Of the 2.9bn rail journeys made in Britain that year, just over 500m started or ended at one of London’s ten busiest stations. If you travelled from or to anywhere smaller than Orpington, congratulations: you’re in a minority.

But there are 57 stations in mainland Britain (the statistics don’t cover Northern Ireland) where fewer than 1,000 people embarked or disembarked. I was surprised to learn, on digging into the data, that they’re not all request stops in the Highlands – although, as it happens, 21 of them are Scottish.

So where are these tiny stations? What purpose do they serve? And why should you definitely buy the first ticket out?

British Steel Redcar

Situated on the scenic Bishop Auckland to Saltburn line, this is, as the name suggests, a station built solely to serve the gargantuan Teesside Steelworks which, prior to its closure in 2015, employed thousands locally. In 2015-16 the station served a small but semi-respectable 740 passengers. By 2016-17, that had dropped to 50. It’s noteworthy for still receiving a decent number of trains (four per day, six days a week) – making it look like Clapham Junction next to some on this list.

If you’re thinking of visiting and aren’t thrilled by views of an abandoned steelworks, you might want to take a book. While the station is owned by Northern Rail, there’s no public access in or out, as it sits within land owned by British Steel. If you miss the 8:25 to Saltburn, it’s another eight hours on an empty platform before you can leave.

Falls of Cruachan

This originally caught the eye with a name because sounds like an area in the game Dark Souls, but it turns out to be moderately interesting in its own right. As the name suggests, the station serves Ben Cruachan mountain and Britain’s second-biggest hydroelectric power station, Cruachan Dam, which spans the Cruachan Reservoir.

Falls of Cruachan station. Image: Rosser1954/Wikimedia Commons.

There’s been a station there since 1893, although it was closed between 1965 and 1988, when it was rebuilt by chucking together some old sleepers and calling it a station. Despite only operating during the summer months, it served a healthy 734 passengers in 2016-17. That footpath to the power station Visitors’ Centre comes in handy.

Teesside Airport

With just one train a week calling, at mid-afternoon on a Sunday, it would hardly be surprising that this station served just 30 passengers last year, if it weren’t for its name. While Durham Tees Valley Airport still manages to serve 120,000 passengers a year, its website does not even mention the railway station. It’s slightly depressing that two of the stations on this list are served by the same line – and that a closed industrial site is both more popular and has more trains than a regional transport hub.

Even fewer passengers than normal today. Image: Felix Saward/Wikimedia Commons.

All the references to the station online reference its distance from the terminal, which is over egging it a bit – it’s about a mile on foot. A proposal to move it closer formed part of the Tees Valley Metro scheme under Labour, but that has since been scrapped by the government on grounds of cost. Maybe Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen can include it in his planned nationalisation of the airport.

Reddish South and Denton

As one of the Labour Party’s campaign co-ordinators, Andrew Gwynne MP must be used to banging on about trains. And with good reason – his Denton & Reddish constituency contains two of the country’s least well served stations. While Reddish North, a 20 minute walk away, serves 196,000 passengers yearly, its southern neighbour manages just 94. It’s a request stop served by two trains a week (doubling its service as of May this year); and if you’ve ever wanted to travel to Stockport before returning 50 minutes later, you’re in luck every Saturday morning.

The forgotten Denton line. Image: TfGM.

Denton is in a similar situation although, perhaps in out of respect for its 136-year history, it at least has a bench. It too received a return service as of this May – you can now, if you really want to, take a four minute train journey from Denton to Reddish South and back again. These are mostly interesting for the context – instead of being in the middle of nowhere adjacent to a mountain, Greater Manchester is a place where, I have heard, people actually live.

Portsmouth Arms, and other pub

There are three stations in the National Rail network which are named after pubs – Portsmouth Arms, a request stop in Devon, is the only one to make it under the 1,000 passengers a year mark, with 518.


The Berney Arms, in Norfolk, is a novelty in providing one of two methods for accessing its eponymous pub, as the station and pub are not connected to any roads.

A slightly concerning detail interrupts this rural train-based drinking idyll, and might explain its low rider numbers (1,126). The last train back on most days is at midday (4pm on a Sunday) meaning unless you’re into a pick me up in the morning, you’re in for a pissed boat ride through the Norfolk Broads. Try not to drown.

The last of the pub-based stations is the comparatively popular (100,000 uses) Craven Arms in Shropshire, which serves a small village named after an old coaching inn. This one’s basically a major urban centre, by virtue of having both regular services and passenger access.

Robin Wilde tweets as @robin_CG.

 
 
 
 

Jane Jacobs and Le Corbusier would agree on one thing: we need more social housing

Unite d’Habitation, Marseille. Image: Iantomferry/Wikimedia Commons.

Much has been written in CityMetric and beyond about the urban planning debates of the 1950s and ‘60s, that came to be characterised as a battle between master-planning and preservation. One side of the debate was personified by the father of modernist architecture, Le Corbusier, whilst the counter-argument was advanced by writer and journalist Jane Jacobs.

But when it comes to London’s housing crisis, aren’t there a few things that these two would actually agree on?

Jane Jacobs’ writing about the organic nature of self-organising communities, demonstrated, in her words, by the “intricate sidewalk ballet” of inner city neighbourhoods, should be required reading for anyone interested in how cities function. But today, Jacobs is increasingly invoked in attempts to oppose new developments of any kind. Her role in conceiving Manhattan’s West Village Houses, a low cost rented housing scheme built through New York State’s Mitchell-Lama Program, is unfortunately much less well known. It’s been suggested that if Jacobs were around today, she’d be working with New York’s housing activists. When her seminal work The Death and Life of Great American Cities was written, there were almost 2 million rent-controlled or rent-stabilised apartments in New York City; nowadays, there are fewer than half that number.

Le Corbusier, on the other hand, is too often blamed for drab high-rise blocks. But regardless of how well his followers across Europe interpreted his ideas, Le Corbusier’s vision for cities was about high quality residential blocks that also contained shops and leisure amenities and were surrounded by parkland – the original mixed use development if you like. His most famous building, Marseille’s Unite d’Habitation, consisted of 337 apartments with views of the mountains and the sea together with shops, a restaurant and a nursery school. The building was originally intended to be public housing, but the French government eventually sold off the flats to recoup costs. Alton West Estate in Roehampton and Park Hill in Sheffield are just some of the examples of Le Corbusier’s influence on the design of post-war council housing here in the UK.

Building homes for a serious business in post-war Britain. Under Attlee’s 1945 Labour Government, 700,000 new council homes were completed. In 1952, the largest architectural practice in the World was at London County Council, with 1,577 staff including 350 professional architects and trainees. These were the days of consensus, and very quickly Tory governments were actually competing with Labour governments about who could built the most council homes.

Some of the council homes built post-war have stood the test of time better than others. But what’s not in doubt is that building council homes on such a scale immeasurably changed the lives of so many families in desperate need of a decent, secure and affordable home. And so many of the post-war modernist high-rise blocks so despised by Jacobs quickly took on the organic self-organising traits that she held in such high regard and have become some of the most enduring and closely-knit communities in London.

Fast forward to 2019 and Right To Buy continues to decimate council housing stock, but perversely home ownership seems more out of reach than ever for so many. An entire generation is being forced to embrace long term private ting in a country that has some weakest protections for private tenants in Europe. Meanwhile, government spending on building new homes fell from £11.4bn in 2009 to just £5.3bn in 2015 – from 0.7 per cent to 0.2 per cent of GDP – and since then, the housing minister’s desk has been occupied by no fewer than six people.


So what would a comprehensive drive for new council and social housing on the scale of the 1945 government’s efforts look like in 2019?

Lubetkin, the architect responsible for Islington’s Spa Green Estate and Bevin Court, summed up the spirit of post-war council home building with his maxim that “nothing is too good for ordinary people”. It’s a vision that we’re trying to recreate through our own council home building programme in Islington.

One of the best opportunities for small council home building schemes is to expand upon existing communities. The vast majority of Islington’s new council housing takes the form of infill, construction on existing estates; in unloved spaces, in old garages, and in old undercrofts. These projects often involve landscaping and new amenities to enhance rather than reinvent local communities. We have built community centres and even rebuilt a library as part of council housing schemes. One Tenants’ and Residents’ Association had an idea for a new specialist over 55s block for the older residents of the estate who wanted to stay in their community.

But there’s a place for large-scale place making as well. When the Ministry of Justice closed Holloway Prison and announced that the site would be sold, Islington Council published a Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) on the site. We had one aim – to send a clear signal to the market that anyone who was looking at buying the site needed to be aware of their planning obligations. Most importantly, any development on the site needed to include at least 50 per cent genuinely affordable homes. The speculation around the site came to an end on 8 March this year when Peabody Housing Association announced that it had bought it. It has committed to going well above and beyond our planning requirements, by making 600 out of a total 1000 homes genuinely affordable homes, including 420 homes for social rent. We need to see more detail on what they are proposing but this is potentially brilliant for the borough. A local grassroots group, Community Plan for Holloway, have been instrumental in ensuring that the community’s voice is heard since the site was sold.

To recreate the scale of the massive post-war council home building programmes would require a Jane Jacobs inspired level of community activism combined with the architectural idealism of Le Corbusier. But it would also need the political will from central government to help local authorities get council housing built. And that, sadly, feels as far away as ever.

Diarmaid Ward is a Labour councillor and the executive member for housing & development at the London Borough of Islington.