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Pressure mounts for station improvements

PUBLISHED: 11:09 12 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:39 30 June 2010

Frank Harding and his Station Stop burger bar

Frank Harding and his Station Stop burger bar

PRESSURE is mounting for much needed improvements to Great Yarmouth station after rail firm National Express said it was not high on its list of priorities.

PRESSURE is mounting for much needed improvements to Great Yarmouth station after rail firm National Express said it was not high on its list of priorities.

Members of the borough council's Yarmouth area scrutiny committee made an impassioned plea for train operator National Express, which leases the station from Network Rail, to invest in the station.

Their comments followed the launch of the online “Fix Our Station” campaign, which describes the station as a “rundown, dreary shack with minimal facilities and dirt and grime everywhere.” A petition signed by 2,000 people has been set up on the campaign website and social networking site Facebook calling on National Express to improve the station.

A further 17 comments have been left on the campaign website slamming it's poor condition.

Borough councillors were not slow to add their concerns while discussing restoration work to nearby Vauxhall Bridge at the council meeting last Wednesday.

Tory Cllr Paul Garrod asked Norfolk County Council project engineer David Wardale if the county was putting pressure on National Express.

Mr Wardale replied: “We have had a meeting with National Express about improvements. We have asked them about investments and the feedback was that Yarmouth station was not one that has got a high priority.”

His comments angered Labour councillor John Holmes, who slammed the company for not spending money available to improve the station and spoke of his fears about the effect it would have on tourism.

He said: “To say it is not a priority when you have that number of people coming to this town on holiday just beggars belief. They are sitting on money and it just beggars belief they are not prepared to do anything about it.”

Tory Cllr Mike Butcher joked that in its current state it could be advertised as “one of the ugliest, most dilapidated stations in the world.”

However, one man wants to paint a brighter picture of the station: Frank Harding runs the Station Stop burger bar.

He said in contrast to the dirty image, the waiting area and toilets were kept spotlessly clean and denied the station had minimal facilities, as he will soon be re-opening the station's kiosk, which is currently closed.

When that happens, which could be in April, he plans to move all his stock in, close the burger bar, and create a new “coffee shop” type facility.

Mr Harding, who has run Station Stop for two years, said rail passengers could not criticise the catering facilities on offer at the station as his mobile burger bar offered a range of menu options, including hot and cold drinks, hot and cold filled rolls, chocolate, cakes and burgers. Salads were also available, he said.

He planned to offer all this when he re-opened the kiosk under the name Frankie's and he is also considering providing seating for customers.

“People write letters saying there is nothing available and that really annoyed me because there is something available,” Mr Harding said.

Brandon Lewis, prospective Tory parliamentary candidate for Yarmouth, started the campaign to improve the station and met staff from National Express and track owner Network Rail on Sunday. He said they pledged to carry out short term improvements to the station, including some planting, but could not do any long term refurbishment as National Express is set to lose its franchise for rail services in the eastern region in March 2011.

The impending termination of the franchise was the main catalyst for the campaign as Mr Lewis wants to persuade the contract bidders of the need for improvements to Yarmouth station.

The situation is further complicated by the lease agreement for the station between Network Rail and National Express, which gives both parties responsibility for maintaining different parts of the station.

However, Mr Lewis welcomed Mr Harding's plan to re-open the kiosk. “The kiosk that used to be there was really not a kiosk that would attract people to spend money there. Hopefully, if Mr Harding gets it he will put something in that people can use and will really enhance the station.”

A National Express spokesman said: “Many of the issues at Great Yarmouth that have been raised by the councillor involve areas of the station and surrounds which are outside of our station leasehold area.

“We would like to see improvements to these areas taken forward and we work hard to ensure the station facilities for which we are responsible are well-presented and kept in good order.

“Furthermore, we are always willing to work with stakeholders including the appropriate local authorities and our colleagues at Network Rail to explore ways of providing improvements to the overall station environment.

“In this respect we continue to have a positive dialogue with interested stakeholders and we are currently working on plans to improve pedestrian access to the station, to provide new poster boards and new station signs.

“We are also working with Norfolk County Council to install a new customer information screen at the station. All of these improvements will enhance the station facilities over the coming months, improving customer information and providing a more welcoming environment for visitors to the station.”

To support the campaign, visit www.fixourstation.com or www.facebook.com and sign the online petition.

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