A leading property and land developer involved in the £32million Northlight mill regeneration scheme in Pendle has voiced frustration with railway decision-making in Britain, and ‘red tape’ regarding the Colne to Skipton rail reopening campaign and talks.

Tim Webber MBE, chairman of Barnfield Construction, a joint venture partner with Pendle Council at Northlight, spoke to the Local Democracy Reporting Service at this week’s mill completion ceremony.

It comes as railway campaigners continue activity for the reopening of the Colne to Skipton railway, with expanded services and new stations.

The Skipton East Lancashire Rail Action Partnership (SELRAP) is holding its annual general meeting at Colne Town Hall on March 11.

Various councils and MPs from different political parties generally support the campaign. 

It is also supported by businesses including electricity generator Drax, Peel Ports, which owns various sea ports including the new Liverpool 2 deepwater port and Heysham Port, and the Skipton Building Society.

SELRAP says fast trains between east Lancashire, Skipton, Bradford and Leeds would significantly boost Pendle, Hyndburn and Burnley.

Brierfield Mill, now called Northlight, is next to Brierfield railway station and the line, which currently ends at Colne with limited capacity. In contrast, Skipton has more lines and trains in all directions.

Northlight mill arguably has some similarities with Salts Mill at Saltaire near Bradford.

READ MORE: 'From an old mill to an icon on a hill' - Praise for £32million Northlight project

Salts Mill is next to the Skipton to Bradford and Leeds railway and the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. But there are regular trains in all directions from Saltaire and double lines.

Saltaire has become a sought-after suburb bordering Bradford and the countryside, and also popular with visitors. Salts Mill’s regeneration began around a David Hockney art gallery. But it is a mixed complex with offices, industry, apartments, small retailers and safes.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service asked Mr Webber about railway investment, the Colne-Skipton reconnection debate and comparisons between Northlight and Salts Mill.

He said: “In the past, we were involved with regeneration work in Burnley’s Weavers Triangle area. There were also developments with the Todmorden curves.”

The Todmordern curves improved rail links journey times between Burnley, West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester.

Mr Webber added: “There seems to be far too much red tape [with railways]. We look to support railways where we build. But we seem to spend more and more time going through red tape. As a private sector company, we are very much about ‘let’s get on and do it’. But we are stuck in red tape and blockers. We are given reasons not to do something rather than reasons to do something.

“The SELRAP campaign has been active for some time, for more railway and faster trains. But to be involved in a talking shop is not something we have got time for. We are all about results rather than a lot of discussion. We have talked about connections and Brierfield, which is very important. But we need organisations like Network Rail or whoever to  engage with us.

“Here we wanted  improvements to a railway footbridge at Brierfield station next to Northlight. It would not cost a lot of money and would be very helpful. We also asked about the railway and entrances with government. But it tended to wallow in a morass of red tape. There appear to be lots of things moving around – like peas on a plate.”

He added: “Our heart is in this area. Northlight has been a massive undertaking. Some elements changed over time because some things would work or would not. You have to be open to change. Salts Mill in Bradford will have been the same. Some elements will have come and gone, others have been successful. ”

Conservative MP Andrew Stephenson was also at Northlight.

Asked about railways, he said: “Back in 2010 when I was first elected, the campaign led by SELRAP was told it was a pipe dream. It would never happen. If it did, it would be a tourist line. However, we have looked at the ideas seriously with government. There has been a study put into the early stages of rail network enhancement. We were making really good progress before the pandemic.

“I still think it would be the single-most important thing to improving the regeneration of Brierfield, Nelson and the whole east Lancashire corridor. I’m really encouraged that there is cross-party support here for reopening the Colne-Skipton link.

“For a site like Northlight, it would be really beneficial. There are hundreds of people working here already. If people could get here more easily without a car, it would make it even more desirable.

“I will keep working on the Colne-Skipton railway. I’m pleased we have made some progress but want to see more investment to come.”

On the Northlight project, he said: “It’s unbelievable to witness what has been achieved. I’ve been involved since becoming an MP in 2010. Back then, it was the largest derelict mill complex in the whole of Lancashire. An eight-acre site. It was on the risk register at English Heritage. Many people were worried it would go up in smoke.

“Now it is transformed and a model of regeneration for other areas to emulate. But we have got to showcase it to a wider audience. It is incredible.”