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Northampton’s regional predicament

Northampton’s regional predicament

Northampton is in, let’s say, an awkward location. Most people will classify it as in the East Midlands, and they’d be right. According to the Office for National Statistics, West and North Northamptonshire are in the East Midlands region. But then it gets more complicated, and the list of contradictions is never ending:

  • West Northamptonshire Council are a member of the West Midlands Rail Executive,
  • West and North Northamptonshire Council are members of the South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership,
  • …and of course, West Northamptonshire is in the STM South Midlands Connectivity Group, while North Northamptonshire is in the East Midlands Connectivity Group
    • Although, bear in mind that our “Connectivity Groups” are based solely on transport connectivity to other areas.

And that’s not all. West Northamptonshire Council have told me numerous times that they tend to work with other councils in the South East, such as Milton Keynes Council, more than they even talk to Leicester City Council or Leicestershire County Council (their neighbours).

This is especially notable in the case of Cherwell District Council, which, when South Northamptonshire Council was around, were partners when delivering council services.

Map of United Kingdom (UK) regions: political and state map of United  Kingdom (UK)

This creates political, economic, and of course, transport-related problems for not only Northampton but the wider West and North Northamptonshire areas. Since this blog is called “STM Opinion”, I’ll give you my opinion on the entire debate, from a sustainable transport point of view:

  • North Northamptonshire has three railway stations; Corby, Kettering, and Wellingborough. Corby and Wellingborough are served by direct electrified rail services via Kettering, Bedford, Luton and Luton Airport Parkway to St Pancras International. Kettering acts as the rail hub of the county, where Intercity services to Nottingham and Sheffield via Derby call.
  • West Northamptonshire also has three railway stations; Kings Sutton, Long Buckby, and Northampton. Kings Sutton is served by two-hourly Birmingham Moor Street – London Marylebone stoppers, as well as a two-hourly Didcot Parkway – Banbury stopping service (both diesel-powered). Long Buckby is served by a 1tph London Euston – Birmingham New Street slow service, as well as an additional 1tph Northampton – Birmingham New Street stopper. Northampton has the same service pattern, with an additional Northampton – Euston stopper hourly.

So, in West Northamptonshire, no direct rail services to the East Midlands. To get to Leicester, for example, you must change at Rugby, and then Nuneaton. It just makes sense for people to drive – it’s so much faster. So, what can we do about this predicament?

Well, the obvious solution is to get rid of the legal county, Northamptonshire. West Northants and North Northants can become independent counties (sort of like Yorkshire). West Northants can join the South East, and North Northants can remain in the East Midlands.

But what if we wanted to improve Northampton’s transport connectivity to the East Midlands?

Well, West Northamptonshire Council are currently working on a potential project to improve rail connectivity to the region through the promotion of a scheme to reopen the line to Market Harborough (due north of Northampton), which could potentially provide direct services to Leicester, Nottingham, Derby and Sheffield (and even beyond to Leeds and Lincoln).

STM shares the vision that a new route between Northampton and Market Harborough via Brixworth should be introduced, but we also think the gap should be closed off, via a second line to Wellingborough via University Waterside and Earls Barton.

This could provide so many service opportunities, and allows a service like Kettering – Milton Keynes Central to run without a reversal at Market Harborough. There’s also the potential of select Bedford Thameslink services to be extended to Northampton or beyond. Of course, you could also take advantage of the lines being a loop, and run a service like Sheffield – London St Pancras International via Northampton, as opposed to Kettering.

We’re going to keep working and researching to see what we can come up with, but I think things are either bright for West Northamptonshire’s connectivity to the East Midlands, or we need to think about whether we belong in the East Midlands or not.

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