THE drive to reopen a railway station to serve Wantage and Grove has stepped up a gear.

Oxfordshire County Council has increased the priority of the £10m project as part of its strategy for the development of the county rail network over the next 20 years.

It will now start detailed feasibility studies.

But the station, on the site of the former Wantage Road station, north of Grove, can only be built if there is a proven need, because Network Rail has to agree to fund the £10m scheme.

Plans to reopen the Wantage Road station, which closed in 1964, date back at least 10 years.

At present many local commuters drive to Didcot Parkway to catch trains to Reading and London.

Some 2,500 homes are due to be built on Grove Airfield over the next 16 years. In addition, 1,100 homes are also expected to be built at the Crab Hill site in the east of Wantage, and a further 900 homes could be built on land north of Grove at Monk’s Farm.

And the creation of the Science Vale enterprise zone is set to create 8,000 jobs in the area.

Wantage MP Ed Vaizey last month wrote to Transport Secretary Justine Greening urging her to include the scheme as part of the tender process to appoint a company to run services in the Great Western region from 2013.

He said he hoped to see the station reopened in the next 10 years.

He said: “Given the expansion of Wantage and Grove and the whole economic vibrancy of the area, it makes a lot of sense.”

At present, Network Rail has not included the plan in its next five-year funding plan, which will run from 2014 to 2019.

Grove Parish Council chairman Frank Parnell said it was essential the project was included in the plan, as the new homes were likely to put strain on the road network in the area.

He said there were not enough jobs locally for the residents moving to the area and a rail service would mean they could easily get to Didcot, Oxford, Reading, London and Swindon.

He said: “If you are going to have a station, then the best thing is for it to be in operation when people start moving into the new houses.

“If it’s there when they move in, they’re likely to use it.”

But Rodney Rose, the county council’s cabinet member for transport, said reopening the station was a long way off yet.

He said: “We are protecting the concept, rather than saying in the next five years we will have a station, because we will not.”

Network Rail spokesman Sam Kelly said: “Any scheme would need to demonstrate a solid business case and represent good value for money.”