This is tremendous news for the Railway. While as I outline below, there is still a long way to go and a lot to do, we can at last look forward to the prospect of getting the gems of our rolling stock collection under weatherproof cover (the carriages in the photos below - thanks to Jon Bowers and Paul Pettitt - all currently live in the open). It is an enormous vote of confidence in the Bluebell and all that we stand for that we have received one of the largest awards ever to a heritage railway.
So what exactly is a Stage One pass, and what happens next? The Pass is effectively approval of the project in outline and means that the HLF will now allocate these funds to the project. It is not a guarantee that a grant will eventually be made, but is a positive indication that if the project is satisfactorily developed along lines agreed with the HLF, it will ultimately receive support. But there remains a great deal still to do. We have to submit our Stage Two application by mid December 2005. This will comprise a fully worked up and costed design, both for the building and for the proposed contents, including the display and interpretation areas. A Stage Two decision usually takes 4 months, so, if we are successful, we could see construction start on the building in the second half of 2006.
So what is the project that the HLF have approved? I refer you to my previous articles as to the nature of the proposed building. This is planned at 23,000 sq ft, to accommodate the equivalent of 24 full length carriages. The building will provide cover for the most vulnerable of our operational carriage fleet, with several out of service locomotives on static display. The award includes a replacement boiler washout pit built to the west of the existing pit (so as to enable clear access to the building from Pumphouse siding) and also new toilet facilities on Platform 2.
There are still a host of issues to be resolved. We need to agree a contract with the HLF to cover the basis on which the development funding is made available. We need to apply for consent from the planning, environmental and fire authorities. The building and structural designs must be developed to the necessary stage. The HLF have set out a number of issues of design detail which they require us to satisfy. Some of the proposed works, particularly along the riverbank, are environmentally sensitive and we shall need to work closely with the planners and the Environment Agency. We need to discuss the project with our neighbours and take into account any concerns they may have. We need to develop our interpretation strategy and the intended displays to a fully designed solution in line with the Stage One approval. This will include conducting surveys to ascertain the views of our visitors. Here, the HLF have set out requirements as to what they wish to see provided and we shall have to work within these guidelines.
Planning for the project also needs to factor in the various infrastructure alterations needed, the operation aspects of using the new building and finding homes for all the stock and other items currently stored behind Platform 2. The archive building recently occupied by the Museum Group and the building housing the model railway will have to be demolished. The impact of the new building will mean substantial changes around Sheffield Park and we shall have to generate detailed proposals for these over coming months.
As well as the substantial management task facing us in achieving Stage Two approval and then in delivering the building, we face also the challenge of delivering our Partnership Funding commitment. The HLF grant is close to the 75% maximum permissible, yet still leaves us a gap of £1million to fund. Taking into account the costs of the Woodpax land acquisition and other funds raised, we are 40% of the way there, but there is still a substantial element of the project cost that we have to provide. Much will be comprised in materials and trackwork provided, but we will also need a substantial volunteer input towards those aspects of the project works within our capability. Assuming we do achieve the Stage Two Pass, we shall need to call on volunteers for many aspects of the site clearance, track laying, and fitting out stages of the project.
In the immediate short term, I would be very grateful for assistance with the interpretation audits and visitor surveys that we shall need to conduct. These will probably take place in late Spring, and help from any member who could give up time to stand around with a clipboard and question our visitors would be much appreciated. Retired or lady members in particular might find this an interesting and fun way to help the project. This is an essential part of the approval process for the project and will be vital to achieving Stage Two. If you might be available around or after Easter, please let me know, either via General Office or via email; remove -NOSPAM before sending.
Cash contributions remain of enormous importance. We still have a number of loans for the purchase of the Woodpax site to pay off, and we shall have to find a portion of the partnership funding in cash. Once our ongoing funding needs become clearer I will write further on this topic.
Finally, can I take the opportunity to thank everyone who has contributed in any way to this project so far, whether as members of the Operation Undercover team, contributors to the Woodpax purchase fund or who have helped in any way with the application or in making the various assessment visits we have had from the HLF so successful. Without you all, we would not have got this far.
There are though no winners just yet. Our problems are only just beginning ......
Director, Funding and Major Projects
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