THE inclusion of the re-opening of the Colne to Skipton rail link in a government planning document has been hailed as ‘a big step forward’ by Pendle MP Andrew Stephenson.

The multi-million pound project features for the first time in this month’s updated edition of Department for Transport’s Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline for 2019 to 2024.

Mr Stephenson said this was encouraging news for the scheme to extend the East Lancashire line across the Pennines which was championed by previous Transport Secretary Chris Grayling.

Pendle Liberal Democrat Lord Tony Greaves said its inclusion as a ‘decision to initiate’ rather than as a ‘decision to develop’ did nothing to reduce his fears that the latest study by consultants might scupper the project.

Earlier this month he raised in Parliament his concerns they had concluded that the route was ‘entirely unsuitable for freight of any kind’.

David Penney, vice-chairman of the Skipton and East Lancashire Rail Action Partnership (SELRAP) campaign group, said the inclusion of the scheme was ‘encouraging’.

Mr Stephenson said: “This is a big step forward for the Colne to Skipton line as it is the first time it has been included in Department for Transport funding plans. This will ensure all aspects of the proposed reopening are now fully investigated.

“While there is still a long way to go and this doesn’t mean the scheme will definitely go ahead, it is a big step in the right direction.”

Lord Greaves said: “This changes nothing. We are still awaiting the second consultants’ report and if it’s true they have decided it is unsuitable for freight, that is bad news. We need this project moved to its development stage as this takes us no further towards reopening the line.”

Mr Penney said: “The situation is confusing. The inclusion of the reopening of the line in this pipeline document is encouraging but does not mean it will go ahead.

“We have submitted new evidence and new costings, which are lower than Network Rail’s, to the Department of Transport which may have helped ensure its inclusion. We are cautiously optimistic.”

Hyndburn MP Graham Jones has convened a meeting at Westminster on Monday with Department for Transport officials, SELRAP representatives and Parliamentarians to discuss progress.

A Transport Department spokeswoman said: “Listing in this document is not a guarantee of delivery.”

The document says the project would provide ‘improved passenger access between East Lancashire and the Leeds City area and an additional trans-Pennine freight route’.