The go-ahead has been given for an ambitious £20m project set to transform the heart of the centre of Carlisle by bringing major changes to the city's railway station.

Government funding has now been agreed for a project that will completely change how passengers access Carlisle's train station, including a partial pedestrianisation of Court Square directly outside the station's main entrance, and a redirection of coach and rail replacement services to the back of the station, on its southern side.

The picking up and dropping off of passengers will also be redirected there.

In addition, a new 423-space car park is mooted for siting at the back of the station as part of the project - one of the first to be finalised under the ambitious Borderlands growth deal between local authorities in the borders region and the Government.

The delivery of such major changes on the southern side of the station has been made possible following Cumbria County Council's recent acquisition of the adjacent Station Retail Park, which includes Matalan and the now vacant unit formerly occupied by Office Outlet.

It will be the county council's responsibility to deliver the project. The council's leader, Stewart Young explained that the funding for the "Station Gateway" project has been agreed by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government in advance of the completion of the final Borderlands project, scheduled for February.


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Stewart Young, leader of Cumbria County Council


Mr Young said that funding was initially to be £15m, but due to the "impact of Covid" the Government agreed to a further £5m.

The idea behind the project, Mr Young explained, is to "completely move the main entrance for people arriving in vehicles from the front to the rear of the station".

"It's long been an issue, the conflict at the front of the station between pedestrians and vehicles, whether that be cars coming to drop people off or pick them up, or the numerous occasions when rail replacement buses are required."

Mr Young added that further space would be created by the eventual demolition of the James Street swimming pools, which he said would be carried out following the completion of Carlisle City Council's extension works at the Sands Centre, involving the creation of new swimming facilities.

Further aspects to the project include the creation of new electric car parking spaces and bicycle facilities at the station.

The Government's minister for regional growth and local government, Luke Hall, described the future version of the station as a "fantastic asset to the city".

“We’re levelling up the regions by investing in transport infrastructure across the country and making our towns and cities great places to live, work and visit," he said.

The leader of Carlisle City Council, John Mallinson said the funding confirmation was "another important step forward" for the station.

"This is welcomed investment in the city and is a key project within the Borderlands Inclusive Growth Deal," he said.

Carlisle's MP John Stevenson said he was "delighted" that the funding had been secured, adding that it will "provide a real boost to infrastructure in our city.”

Beyond the more immediate benefits to passengers, the changes to be made to the station through this project has "helped convince" the company behind the High Speed 2 rail project of the importance of Carlisle to the overall project, Mr Young said.

"We've lobbied for many years to ensure that HS2 trains actually do stop in Cumbria," he said.

"At one time, the plan was that when travelling north, they would stop at Preston, and the next stop would be Scotland.

"This work at Carlisle railway station has helped to convince HS2 that it's important for them to provide a service to Cumbria.

Mr Young explained that the station redevelopment will enable HS2 to "fulfil their plans" for Carlisle, involving the creation of a new platform, and the extension of an existing one.

"All of these plans fit together," Mr Young said.

The project was described by Mr Young as a "very exciting opportunity", adding that the railways will play an important role in years to come as the country seeks to move towards being carbon neutral.

"The number of rail passengers has significantly reduced during Covid-19," he said.

"I'm sure it will take some time for those numbers to build back up again.

"But we are looking towards the future here.

"When that happens, in a few years' time, the railway station will be well placed to take advantage of that, and to help divert people away from car journeys and onto the railways."

Rory Kingdon, senior sponsor at Network Rail, said the upgrade to the "magnificent" Carlisle railway station will help to "transform journeys to Carlisle and beyond".

"We look forward to working closely with Cumbria County Council on this initiative to attract passengers back to the railway," he said.

Matthew Worman, regional growth manager at Avanti West Coast, added that “Carlisle is a major hub on our west coast route".

"These ambitious plans will transform the station, strengthen connectivity, and make it a fitting gateway to the city and Borderlands region," he said.

“Together with our commitment to enhance the customer experience with modern retail facilities, improved waiting rooms and a cycle hub, Carlisle station will be put firmly on the map – attracting more people to visit the city and wider region by train.

"We’re proud to be playing our part to strengthen the role of Carlisle station, helping to connect people and places to opportunity, and look forward to working with all partners, including Network Rail to deliver this exciting project.”

Jim Jackson, chairman of Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership’s investment panel, said that the project will "crucially meet the needs of the station’s users, as well as enhance the attractiveness of the station as the gateway to Carlisle city centre and the wider Borderlands area".

“Cumbria LEP is delighted to have supported the wider development of the scheme," he said.