Campaigners to present transport secretary with petition calling for better access at Needham Market station
Campaigners calling for better access arrangements at Needham Market station are set to meet with transport secretary Chris Grayling today to present their petition at Westminster.
Local advocates Jen Overett, Terence Carter and Wendy Marchant, alongside the MP for Bury St Edmunds Jo Churchill, will head to the Department of Transport to voice their concerns about limited mobility access at the station – which they say disadvantages residents travelling with wheelchairs, buggies, bikes and heavy luggage.
They will bring with them a locally-sourced petition to improve access to the station, which has gathered over 1,400 signatures in just one year.
The group will make their case for government funding in the form of an ‘Access for All’ grant, part of a scheme introduced in 2006 and extended in 2014 with the vision to improve access at hundreds of Britain’s stations.
Jen Overett, who initiated the petition, said: “The access arrangements at Needham Market station are woefully inadequate and deter many local residents from even using the trains. I believe we have a strong case for government funding to redress these problems at last. This campaign has a fantastic level of support from local residents and businesses, who have all helped create this opportunity to present our case in person to the secretary of state for transport.”
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Terence Carter, Needham Market town councillor, added that the 49 steep steps to access the Ipswich-bound platform is not only prohibitive for wheelchairs.
“It’s a physical challenge for passengers with limited mobility, buggies, small children, bikes or heavy luggage too,” he said.
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“The station is not staffed, and it’s not an unusual occurrence for rail-users to arrive at our station to find they literally cannot exit the platform.”
Wendy Marchant, district councillor for the town, said: “This has been a priority for Needham and surrounding areas for many years. The town is growing significantly in terms of both homes and local businesses, and we have the support of local councils at town, district and county level, so I am optimistic the campaign will be successful this year.”
Jo Churchill MP added: “Having previously visited the station on numerous occasions, I am acutely aware of the concerns raised by this campaign. It cannot be right that residents with limited mobility or with a pram for instance cannot access both platforms.
I am very glad to give my support to this campaign for improved access at Needham Market station, and to ensure that this important the case is put to the secretary of state for transport, Chris Grayling MP.”
The campaign was launched in May 2017, when a number of commuters expressed their frustration at the fact that the Ipswich-bound platform is accessible only by a steep underground stairway – meaning wheelchair-bound passengers en route to London are forced to take taxis for the first leg of their journey.
This is despite a £700,000 improvement scheme carried out at the station in 2015 by Greater Anglia, promising improvements to the platform, subway and stairs.
Throughout last year support grew among prominent influencers, when Needham Market Town Council, the Campaign for Better Transport and several business leaders put their names to the cause.
Then in October 2017 Suffolk County Council confirmed it would be writing to Chris Grayling, informing him it will be applying for an Access for All Grant on behalf of campaigners.
One potential solution is to install a lift at the station. Alternatively, passengers may access the platform via a slope.
Ms Marchant added: “It all depends on Chris Grayling saying we can have the grant.”