Has the Beauly project hit the buffers?
The committee meeting for Monday July 12th had been scheduled to be held in Beauly, an auspicious choice of venue given that the news had just broken that the £68,000 European Objective funding component of the financial package to reopen Beauly station had been denied.
In order to advance the discussions as constructively as possible John Farquhar Munro MSP and Garry Coutts, Highland Councillor for Beauly were invited to attend and were warmly welcomed. Unexpectedly and fortuitously we were joined briefly by John Boyle, ScotRail Public Affairs Director, who had just taken the opportunity to visit the site of the old Beauly station. It was felt that the case for reopening had not been sufficiently made, it being claimed that the planning application did not include a carpark, an obvious drawback.
The overall cost had been calculated at £170,000 and the reasons given by the European Regional Development Fund for turning down Objective One funding were that Beauly is not peripheral enough and the scheme would not create any jobs.
The news stunned rail improvement campaigners because the project had attracted considerable national attention as a trailblazer in the new world of rail partnerships between the public and private sectors. In May, the then Transport Minister, Glenda Jackson, answering a question in the Commons, confirmed that a station in Beauly was expected to open in 1999.
On being interviewed by Clive Dennier for his article in the Press and Journal our Chairman John Melling said: "If we can't achieve a miniature station like Beauly with its special dispensation from the Railway Inspectorate at this sort of cost through partnerships, what is the hope of improving rail services in rural areas?" Mr. Melling also pointed out that, although the station would not create jobs, it would give unemployed people in the area better access to Inverness, where there were job opportunities. He added that a commuter service between Dingwall and Inverness stopping at Muir of Ord had set a valuable precedent for the Beauly scheme.
At our meeting Councillor Coutts expressed the concerns that he had about the project and suggested that any resubmitted application would have to demonstrate that people from the outlying districts of Beauly would benefit and that links with bus services would be established to connect with these districts.