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Latest 2018 BML2 Project Publication

Design2158 What BML2 will do for

Kent and Tunbridge wells

The 14pp report can be downloaded for viewing and printing by clicking on the image. Please circulate to friends and colleagues and if appropriate, to local Tunbridge Wells and Kent councillors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Council’s plan to wreck Lewes-Uckfield rumbled

In spite of the furore in 2005 over its proposed Gyratory Road Scheme, East Sussex County Council remains determined to build this across the Lewes rail link on Uckfield’s station site.


ESCC’s ‘Public Consultation’ exercise lasts until 23 April and the so-called options can be downloaded and commented upon from their website: www.eastsussex.gov.uk  continue to ‘Uckfield Traffic Improvements’.


But Option D called ‘Southern Road Phase 1’ is the scheme which ESCC will build – unless it is stopped. This starts by demolishing Uckfield’s historic Railway Inn (now renamed ‘The Station’) to enable their new highway to sweep into the land once owned by British Rail.  Uckfield’s former station platforms will be razed, whilst the supposedly protected trackbed will be severed ‘at grade’ (on the level). The road will then cross the river to join Tesco’s roundabout where the retailer aspires to build a massive superstore.


ESCC will retain the existing section of High Street, where the level crossing used to be, before joining this in to complete its intended Gyratory. The ‘Inset’ on the diagram shows how this will be accomplished.



Option-D

We have had to overlay blue and red dots to indicate more clearly the route of the railway through Uckfield


(To print out this graphic in a higher resolution Click here)


Once complete, Uckfield will then become a permanent rail terminus and the Brighton Main Line will continue as the only direct rail connection between Brighton, Hove, Lewes, Eastbourne, Seaford, Newhaven and London.


The Department for Transport, which now owns the land, needs to call-in this scheme because we consider MPs, Ministers and Peers are being wilfully deceived.


In the House of Lords last October, the Government’s Transport Spokesman Earl Attlee told a concerned Lord Berkeley that he understood redirecting the road into the station site “allows for the building of a bridge at a later stage”. This was because reinstating the former High Street level crossing would be “unacceptable if you wanted to reopen the railway” – a fact which no one, Network Rail, Southern, or the Wealden Line Campaign has ever disputed.


Similarly concerned was Conservative Minister and Tunbridge Wells MP Greg Clark who not only wrote to Rail Minister Theresa Villiers and DfT Minister Norman Baker, but also ESCC’s Director of Economy, Transport & Environment, Rupert Clubb.


Mr. Clubb told Greg Clark, the Communities and Local Government Minister: “It should be noted that within the ‘Network Rail Lewes-Uckfield Railway Line Reinstatement Study 2008’ Network Rail concluded that a bridge could not be constructed at the existing High Street and that one could only be accommodated to the west, in a position similar to one of our possible options. In addition, the cost of this bridge is included within the report’s overall project costs”.


Until now, it’s been assumed and agreed by the Government, Network Rail and most of us that a new road and bridge is required to replace the old High Street level crossing.


Network Rail’s Lewes-Uckfield 2008 Engineering Study shows a new station on the site, incorporating two very necessary 12-car platforms either side of double track for the growing town of Uckfield.


Network Rail’s route for the road and associated bridge and approaches costing £4.5m was based on the Town Council’s own suggestion. This fully protects the station site which includes ample space for desperately-needed car parking as part of Network Rail’s £108m proposal to reopen the railway and restore train services to the Sussex Coast.


Seeking further clarification, Network Rail tells us: “The 2008 very high level estimate for the basic elements of the new road bridge was: £3,623,918 [for the bridge over the trackbed/future railway]; plus £905,400 [approach ramps].”


They said this total of £4,529,318 represents “the cost of building the bridge and road – other project management, design and preliminary costs would have to be added to this. If you were to build the bridge in advance of the reinstatement of the railway line, you would be able to use any contractor, rather than a Network Rail approved construction company, this should reduce the costs significantly because you are not bridging an operational railway.”


At the County Council’s exhibition, we heard ESCC officers and representatives telling people that the option to reopen the railway would remain, directing them to their plan marked: ‘Option D - Southern Road Phase 2’.


But this isn’t a second phase at all – and isn’t intended to be. It is nothing more than an attempt to mislead those who are concerned with protecting the railway and seeing it reopened. It shows an extensive (some say deliberately over-engineered) flyover which ESCC puts ‘in the region of £15 to £20 million’. ESCC representatives were also telling people this flyover would be “paid for by Network Rail” if the business case for the reopening (which they reminded everyone had “failed”) were to improve. However, when challenged how adding £20m to the reopening costs would improve the business case they walked away.


Encouragingly, not just townsfolk but people we recognized from other towns, Tunbridge Wells, Lewes, Crowborough, Newhaven, were clearly mainly concerned about protecting the interests of the railway and having train services once more across the region.


ESCC is saying their road scheme is needed now to manage traffic congestion from houses which are expected to be built by 2027. But, as someone pointed out, these additional 1,000 homes will also need better rail links and services – as well as a properly-designed road scheme for the town. Let’s not forget that fast BML2 services from Uckfield would be in Lewes in 10 minutes, in Brighton in 18 minutes and in Eastbourne in 30 minutes. 

 

BML2 Project Manager Brian Hart said: “The feedback we’re getting reflects everyone’s concern that the County Council is the tail wagging the dog. A regional rail scheme cannot be jeopardised by a relatively insignificant in-town road scheme. People keep asking ‘Where’s Norman Baker when we need him?’ – I’m sorry to say I don’t know.”


Brian Hart added: “We know the level crossing will not be reinstated and we know a bridge and new road is necessary – we all want that. Unfortunately this scheme is ill-conceived, poorly designed and won’t even resolve the impossible – ‘solving’ traffic congestion. But given ESCC’s appalling record on Lewes-Uckfield, I suspect that’s probably not the real intention.”
 
Predictably, various so-called ‘options’ are presented in this window-dressing exercise, but most people aren’t as gullible as ESCC imagines. One (Option B) costing £1 to £2m, would provide 132 much-needed station car parking spaces on the site and would continue to leave the protected trackbed undisturbed for reopening.


He concluded: “This is railway land and it is needed for railway purposes. However, ESCC has no intention whatsoever of doing Option B – it’s just a cynical exercise. Nevertheless, I suggest everyone should vote for it. Everyone – parish, town, city councils, councillors, chambers of commerce, trade organizations – whoever you are, or know, then tell, email or tweet them to vote for Option B. If you support reopening the railway and want to do something for BML2 then send this message to East Sussex County Council that we shall continue fighting for the considerable improvements, new connections and train services that the south so desperately needs.”


Rail Minister admits Thameslink not long-term BML solution

At the Gatwick Hotel last year Network Rail chiefs told stakeholders:Sussex railways are the most congested in the UK. Landslides, tunnel closures, accidents and engineering blockades followed; then came Februarywhich commuters called amonth from hellas the Brighton Lines over-burdened vulnerability was exposed. Lord Bassam of Brighton wrote a compelling pieceSupport our plan to restore rail linebacking BML2, whilst last week headlines from fed-up citizens urged:Get behind BML2 if you want it to happen. Even March started badly with a major power failure near Gatwick which cut all rail connections between London and the Sussex Coast on Sunday.

 

Following last Septembers incident in Balcombe tunnel, Southerns MD Chris Burchell told us:We would like to have a more efficient diversionary route for the BML for times of major disruption and engineering work.At that time he said:the BML2 idea looks like it could help in these (hopefully) rare events of BML closure. Well, Chris, rare they havent been, as Network Rail, let alone thousands of unfortunate passengers, know to their considerable cost.

 

Chris Burchell also said:We would also like to have more capacity for trains from the South Coast into London such that a better balance for commuter services and airport services could be achieved for all routestaking into account improvements in capacity, performance, line speed and journey times.He added:Such idyllic aspirations can only be considered seriously if they are both affordable and viable.

 

Now, in a response to Brighton MP Simon Kirby, a keen supporter of BML2, Rail Minister Theresa Villiers acknowledges:The BML is one of a number of routes on which the provision of further capacity is difficult.She goes on to warn that the Thameslink 12-car trains when delivered in 2015will be a useful medium-term contribution to BMLbut says thiswill not on its own, provide a long-term solution.

 

We have seen several versions of how BML2 might connect to one of the main lines that could feed trains into a London terminusshe told Mr. Kirby, adding:Unfortunately none of these versions connect to a route that is not already completely full in the peak. There are no spare train slots into either Victoria or London Bridge at peak times. This means that the BML2 proposal, in its current form, fails to satisfy its primary purpose of providing rush-hour relief to BML1. Until or unless a solution to this problem is found there would be no point in carrying out a thorough review of the BML2 proposal.

 

Many will challenge this analysis, but we hardly expected to find spare train slots into London termini because there will always be services to fill any going spare. As someone said, there are no spare slots for HS2 trains into Euston, but that isnt a barrier to the Government. In the south its a matter of allocation, using available slots wisely and ensuring maximum value is obtained. But even without a London-end solution, BML2s additional routes to both Brighton and Tunbridge Wells would be of inestimable valueand not just during disruptions which now occur on a regular basis.

 

The whole point of BML2 is that it can run more trains and carry thousands more people from Sussex, as well as from Tunbridge Wells to within a few miles of the City of London. It circumvents all Network Rails insuperable bottlenecks andmajor barriers to growthalong the congested Brighton and Tonbridge main lines. It shrinks the massive long-distance problems to a more manageable short-distance solution.

 

Theresa Villiers expressed personal thoughts by telling the Brighton MP:Im sorry to send such a disappointing answer, but the bottlenecks into the big London stations do seem to pose a barrier which its not currently possible for the BML2 scheme to get over.

 

Thameslink 2015 is a stop-gap and Network Rail says by 2020 rising BML usage will cancel out this intermediate capacity, so conditions will be no better than today. Its just as bad in Kent where the TonbridgeOrpington section severely constrains growth.

 

BML2s Project Manager said:I do believe Theresa Villiers is genuinely concerned, but well willingly present our case if she is prepared to listen. We have to start planning now because time is running out. Double-deck and 16-car trains are ruled-out for good reasons, whilst there is nothing else on the table apart from pricing people off rush-hour trains in the vague hope of creating more room. It cant be right that only the well-off will be able to afford travelling to work between 8 and 9. The South is crying out for a larger and more robust network with new strategic connections, not just for when things go wrong, but supporting additional services so everyone can travel into work at a reasonable hour. Realistically, only BML2 can provide this affordable expansion. As for London-end connections, we have some ideas, so maybe the time has come for some radical solutions that could be spectacularly money-spinning.

 

 

South will stagnate without BML2

“There are many rail schemes, crying out for far smaller sums than HS2, which could offer a bigger impact pound for pound. An excellent example is BML2.”
- Christian Wolmar, Transport Writer and Broadcaster


Sussex railways are the most congested in the UK. Despite all Brighton Line trains being maximum (12 car) length in the next few years, demand is rapidly outstripping capacity. By 2020 even the longer trains – which will have less seating and more standing room – will be just as overcrowded as today.


Disruption on the Brighton Main Line (BML) will continue through train breakdowns, point failures, signalling problems, bad weather, accidents, suicides, engineering works, etc, etc.  It’s already impossible to run more trains, expand services to other towns, or offer passengers greater choice and much-needed alternative routes into London from the south.


Kent’s Tonbridge Main Line (TML), similarly described by Network Rail to be “a major barrier to growth”, is in the same invidious position. But between these two arterial routes into London is the former main line to Uckfield which, until 1969, ran directly into Brighton and into Tunbridge Wells. It is no coincidence that the BML and TML are now in serious trouble. The absurdly under-used Uckfield line is perfectly capable of being a main line once again and relieving both its neighbouring overloaded lines. It is a classic example of all that is wrong with short-term transport policy in England.


The blame rests squarely with Government intransigence. The Uckfield line is restrained by single-line sections due to ‘rationalisation’ in 1989 – approved by Mrs. Thatcher’s Transport Minister, Michael Portillo. This misguided attempt to avoid a growing backlog of track maintenance costs restricts the route to providing just a half-hourly service. Similarly, the stubborn refusal to electrify the 25 miles south of Oxted to Uckfield, let alone reinstate the seven miles to the coastal network, is another example of the Government seriously failing the south.


The Government is perfectly aware of how embarrassingly successful rail schemes have proved. Both Scotland and Wales have benefited enormously in the past decade. Every reopening and upgrade has far-exceeded the pessimistic passenger demand assessments.


Even the limited peak hour services running on the Uckfield line are now busier than they’ve ever been. Commuters have to increasingly stand in aisles, perch in luggage compartments, or drive elsewhere, but it’s pretty much the same everywhere. Some commuters head to Haywards Heath and other BML stations where they can park and have more frequent services. But railheading concentrates overloading and the BML can’t support any more trains – it’s a full-up railway.


Everyone seems to agree, train operators included, that more trains need to run between the Sussex Coast and London, as well as Tunbridge Wells and London to relieve the equally congested TML. Because the Government, the Department for Transport and Network Rail between them will not promote expansion of the south’s rail network, things can only get far worse as we head for stagnation.


The Government will not order any more new diesel trains to ease the crush. It won’t electrify, nor will it redouble the Uckfield line, even though it’s a trifling sum in transport budgets. It’s an unworthy don’t care attitude and a do-nothing transport policy. No vision, no ideas, no plan, no growth – and no hope.


Station parking at Uckfield hardly exists (approx 13 spaces) so commuters drive to the next station, Buxted, where they overspill into village streets and lanes. It is the same story at Eridge where most of the 220-plus cars park at crazy angles along the verges. At Uckfield, adjacent residential roads are clogged up. Nearby, the extensive goods yard and former station site has lain derelict for 20 years. This belonged to BR’s Property Board, now a ‘wholly-owned subsidiary of the Department for Transport’ – i.e. the Government. It has a price tag of between £3m - £4m but the Government says it wants the money from selling it to a developer – for housing.


Attempts to use the land for commuter parking have been consistently frustrated, not least by East Sussex County Council which will publicise plans in mid-March for a new road built across the trackbed as part of this development. A sop to commuters is the promise of a few public parking spaces (Network Rail discovered it was 38). This is for a town of 13,000 people. The site should be imaginatively developed for a proper double-track/two-platform station with multi-storey parking, an integrated transport hub with, most certainly, a new road, but one which includes a bridge over the railway. But this requires vision, good planning and consideration for the future.


This week it was announced that another 1,000 new houses will be built in Uckfield....


Network Rail told Tunbridge Wells Borough Council “Unfortunately High Speed One doesn’t put any more track into Tunbridge Wells.” It certainly doesn’t, but BML2 does. BML2 means reopening the Uckfield main lines into Tunbridge Wells and to Lewes, plus a new direct connection into Brighton and Falmer – the only way of relieving the Brighton Line. It is not just a reasonable and realistically affordable scheme, but one which supplies all the capacity the south needs. It also has practical solutions for opening new routes into London, new cross-connections and unlocking massive and exciting opportunities for future growth right across the south east as part of further Thameslink expansion.


But it seems the Government isn’t interested and won’t even listen to the case for BML2.


Instead, its preferred option is to attempt stifling demand by imposing punitive fares for travelling in the high peak hour. It’s an attitude which smacks of they’re only commuters after all and can’t do anything else but cough-up if they want to get into work.


Railways play a tremendously important role in the South East – outside as well as inside Greater London. Stifling growth and selling-off valuable assets for a mere pittance is not a transport policy.


It is no way to run a railway, let alone a country.

“BML2 good for London” says Lord Bassam

Chaos over three days on the Brighton Line causing widespread despair among passengers caught up in the turmoil resulted in Lord Berkeley, chairman of the Rail Freight Group and whose interests are transport and the environment, submitting two questions to Her Majesty’s Government.
 
The following day, on Wednesday 15, serious delays yet again occurred during Wednesday’s busy morning peak hours when over-running engineering works between Three Bridges and Wivelsfield caused long queues for replacement buses. Unfortunately, this was followed by further pandemonium late on Friday afternoon and the evening peak when a major power failure was reported in the Horley area which paralysed services between London and the South Coast.

Only the day before, Lord Bassam of Brighton wrote a powerful full-page article for the city’s Argus newspaper in which he set out his reasons for supporting BML2. He said the case for reopening “has never been stronger” and that the project “has a great deal going for it.” Those who have to pay top season ticket prices shouldn’t be forced to stand, he said, whilst he fears Network Rail’s predicted seating shortfall of 3,000 in twenty years’ time will come a lot sooner. Others have told us this, too.

Citing the “pull factor” of jobs in Canary Wharf and the City of London, he said: “Sussex commuters need an alternative route into London”, adding that Crossrail can only heighten this need and “add massively to the argument for greater rail connectivity”. BML2 would, he said “take pressure off the mainline and reduce the number of changes passengers have to make across London’s principal destinations.”

He is right of course, whilst many of us are left wondering how much longer commuters in the south will tolerate conditions on not only the overloaded Brighton Line, but the Tonbridge Main Line too.  

Appreciating how busy the railways have become throughout the day and at weekends, Lord Bassam perceptively explained how developments such as Brighton’s hugely successful AMEX stadium at Falmer have led to changing travel patterns, despite the transport system failing to keep pace. He suggests how much better it would be if on match days supporters could access the stadium via BML2. And, as we and others have pointed out, Sussex University would then be on a main line to London as well as major South East towns.

“If the Government wants to make an important environmental statement it could tell Network Rail to add the restored link into its plans and give rail the boost it needs” he said, roundly criticizing the “too narrowly cast” scope of the 2008 Study which, incidentally, lost its last shred of credibility by concluding passenger demand south of Uckfield could be satisfied with a 2-car train!

He drew attention to the enormously successful rail schemes in Scotland and Wales; the passenger estimates for which had proved “wide of the mark in seriously underestimating the popularity of new lines.”  
 
A passionate supporter in all that BML2 has to offer, not just across Sussex, but London and the wider South East, Lord Bassam threw down the gauntlet by saying: “The Government says it wants infrastructure investment because it helps to support growth in the economy. I argue that this is a perfect project for just that.”

In a further impassioned challenge to the Government to become involved in helping explore and develop BML2 he said: “For my part as an ex-Government minister I am happy to work for the greater good. I ask the ministers responsible, Theresa Villiers and Norman Baker, and those with an interest in transport like Boris Johnson to get behind this project because it is good for Sussex, it is good for our great city by the sea in Brighton and Hove and it will be good for London.”

Project Manager Brian Hart said: “The benefits of BML2 for London and the South East are truly immense and we would welcome the opportunity at any time to present these to Boris Johnson, Theresa Villiers and rail industry chiefs.” 

Labour’s House of Lords Chief Whip - “BML2 is a must”

Another chaotic peak-hour closure of the Brighton Line last Friday at Balcombe, followed by weekend closure for engineering works, has highlighted once again the strain on this vulnerable route and the many thousands who daily rely upon it*. A broken rail in Balcombe tunnel brought widespread delays with the media reporting many hundreds queueing for hours to board inadequate replacement buses.

Lord Bassam of Brighton and Shadow Chief Whip in the House of Lords, was frankly incensed by this latest incident and said passionately: “Government ministers say we don't need BML2 for at least twenty years. What do they know? They don't catch trains from Sussex to London.”

Network Rail will again face paying compensation to train operators. In 2007 the company revealed closing the Brighton Line amounted to £1million per day. Lord Bassam urged Network Rail to factor in the long term saving and the value of BML2 in being able to maintain rail services between the Sussex Coast and London.  

Last year he expressed deep concern that economic growth in the south was being held back. “The Sussex network is grossly congested, which is why we must have this second Brighton Line via Uckfield.”

He’s perfectly right of course. At the Gatwick Hotel last summer, stakeholders were bluntly told by Network Rail: “Sussex railway routes are the most congested in the UK”.

“For Sussex commuters BML2 is a must.” said Lord Bassam, adding: “For £100m we could have Lewes–Uckfield and an improved Sussex Coastal service.”

BML2 Project Manager Brian Hart said: “This would clearly get BML2 underway – a project which opens up enormous economic and travel opportunities across the South East.”

Now, Lord Bassam says he believes it is: “Time for Norman Baker to use his ministerial influence and get cash commitment to fund seven miles of track for a new full Sussex Coastal service.”

Brighton Kemptown MP Simon Kirby also told those who contacted him over the weekend that BML2 would help the south by providing alternative routes when the Brighton Line is under such pressure.

Lord Bassam is urging everyone: “Do what you can to promote it. It's a project that works on a number of levels. Less pollution and better public transport links.”

 


* A daily average of 45,700 passengers use Brighton station and 1,890,882 season ticket entries recorded per annum (source Network Rail Sussex Route Utilisation Strategy and Office of Rail Regulation)

Brighton needs Brighton Main Line 2 says city MP

Ever since his election, Brighton Kemptown MP Simon Kirby has supported the Lewes–Uckfield re-opening and has initiated meetings with Ministers.

Now, wanting to learn more about the bigger picture and prospects, he met the promoters of BML2 to view the updated presentation. Project manager Brian Hart said: “Simon was an attentive listener and already appreciates the enormous problems confronting the busy Brighton Main Line.”

Network Rail’s 2007 Study into substantially increasing capacity on the Brighton Line concluded that spending £1bn on converting the route for longer trains or with new tunnels for double-deck rolling stock would actually worsen the current service. However, rather than investing in network expansion to handle more capacity, its 2011 ‘London & South East Route Utilisation Strategy’ proposes introducing a ‘Pricing Structure’. This means charging far higher fares for high-peak trains (08:00 – 09:00) in an attempt to deter demand and persuade commuters to travel earlier or later into work.

Brian told Mr. Kirby: “We clearly need more capacity on both the Brighton and Tonbridge Main Lines into London and BML2 can deliver this. People in the Home Counties south of London shouldn’t be punished for needing to get into work at a reasonable hour. We’re told we need High Speed Two for the extra capacity and the same is true with BML2 – but at a tiny fraction of the cost.”

Brian explained how BML2 would not only serve Lewes, but with its short link under the South Downs enable at least four additional trains to operate in the high peak hour between Brighton and London: “BML2’s advantage is that it can be phased – as suggested by Network Rail associates. Each stage brings more benefits, opportunities and increased capacity across the south. Everybody wins.”

Appreciating the importance of BML2 rather than just reopening Lewes–Uckfield which recently assumed a poor business case, Simon Kirby said: “Only BML2 can deliver direct train services between London and the AMEX stadium. This is just one of many reasons why Brighton needs this enhanced and sustainable transport link to the capital.”

The BML2 Presentation graphically illustrates how the project would not only vastly improve travel for commuters, but opens up infinite opportunities for business and tourism where rail has an increasingly important role to play, particularly across the many environmentally-sensitive areas throughout Sussex, Kent and Surrey.

Mr. Kirby believes BML2 will achieve many local goals: “It would firstly ease pressure on the congested Brighton to London commuter line. It would boost tourism and visitor numbers to the area and it would bring more jobs and economic opportunity.”

After the meeting Simon Kirby concluded: “BML2 will bring significant advantages and benefits to Brighton and the surrounding area” and encouragingly went on to say: “I recently met with the Minister [Theresa Villiers] to discuss this proposal and hope to meet with Norman Baker and Lord Bassam in the near future to see if a cross-party approach can bring the result we all want.”

Transport Minister: “Re-opening Lewes–Uckfield makes good railway sense”

Transport Minister and Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker wants a more strategic and regional focus to be applied to one of the UK’s top reopening projects. This week he told the Wealden Line Campaign “I believe that the sensible way forward regarding Lewes–Uckfield is to consider it in the context of the railway corridor from Brighton and the South Coast to London”. His comments come after reading a letter, published in February’s Today’s Railways, from a Network Rail employee who spoke of the “full-to-capacity Brighton Main Line”.

Simon Stoddart, who has many years of experience controlling trains at the BML’s busy Three Bridges panel, said: “Before we commit huge sums to a bottomless pit (High Speed Two) – how about attending to the bread-and-butter railway first and filling-in those gaps such as Uckfield–Lewes?” He also drew attention to the soaring success of the Uckfield line with the reintroduction of direct services to London, adding: “the glaring missing piece of this jigsaw is that few miles south to Lewes, with its huge potential for an equally well-used service to Brighton”.

Mr. Stoddart criticized the “excuse to sit on hands” by those who claim East Croydon would need additional capacity. He said merging Uckfield and East Grinstead services at Oxted would overcome this if the Uckfield line was redoubled, extended to the coast and electrified. *(1)

He also said “reopening would not be a challenging project”, believing the biggest obstacles were East Sussex County Council with its latest road scheme across the trackbed at Uckfield station and Government spokesmen such as Lord Attlee “ – yet another politician to change his views from opposition to Government”. With the Brighton Line so overloaded, Mr. Stoddart said the new Brighton–London route “will do very nicely, consolidating business to London and new patronage to Brighton from the Uckfield, Crowborough and Oxted area. There will be the additional benefit of an alternative route to the South Coast with the Brighton Main Line 2 project well worth considering too”.

Norman Baker said “It is quite clear that there is considerable pressure on train paths north from Brighton, particularly in the Balcombe area. The case for reinstatement of Lewes–Uckfield may well rest on the creation of an alternative line from the South Coast to London. That would indeed involve improvements to the line north of Uckfield, including electrification and re-doubling.”

Campaign Director Brian Hart said this was originally the aim of the 2008 Lewes–Uckfield Reopening Study – to show what reopening could do for the route in its regional context as part of a new main line in the south*(2) “However, the final outcome was a skewed study, weakly focusing only on local traffic between Lewes and Uckfield – but of course we know why that happened”.

Norman Baker ended on a positive note by saying: “I continue to believe that the re-opening of the Lewes–Uckfield line makes good railway sense and I have not entirely given up my aspiration to be present for the day this finally happens”.

“With increasing overcrowding and unreliability on the south’s overburdened network, BML2 can’t come soon enough” said Brian Hart.


*(1) “As well as the environmental benefits, electrification of the Hurst Green to Uckfield route would remove the need for the small fleet of diesel trains which currently operate the route. It would also enable joint running again with the East Grinstead services, which reduce the need for additional peak hour slots into London.”


*(2) “If this scheme was to be taken forward then it could be seen as another building block in the development of the Lewes, Uckfield, Oxted and London corridor. Later developments could include shorter journey time, redoubling any single-line sections, connecting into Tunbridge Wells and electrification.”

– Chris Curtis, Network Rail Project Manager Lewes-Uckfield Study. (These are among sections deleted from the final version published by East Sussex County Council in 2008).

BML2 “Time for action is now”

-says Brighton MP Simon Kirby (Kemptown & Peacehaven) who met Rail Minister Theresa Villiers last week.

Simon Kirby has supported the project since his election. In June he wrote to Transport Minister and Lewes MP Norman Baker asking for a meeting with him. The Brighton MP said: “The re-opening of this line would achieve so many local goals. It would firstly ease pressure on the congested Brighton to London commuter line. It would boost tourism and visitor numbers to the area and it would bring more jobs and economic opportunity. I hope the Minister will see me, given his past support for this initiative, and we can work together in taking this matter forward.”

Unfortunately Simon Kirby was told the Government was not interested in supporting the project and that it was entirely up to the local authority (East Sussex County Council) to submit proposals. However, because the County Council now intends using the supposedly safeguarded trackbed for its own road-building ambitions, this seems somewhat cynical to say the least.

An undeterred Simon Kirby said he has regular discussions with both Brighton and Hove City Council and ESCC, adding “I will suggest to these bodies that serious consideration should be given to this matter. Opening the [Lewes-Uckfield] line would reduce congestion on the busy Brighton to London route and would bring extra capacity to bear on the rail network in our area.”

Now, following a “very constructive” meeting on 12 December at the Department for Transport with Theresa Villiers, Simon Kirby said “we also discussed how the initiative could fit in so well to the Brighton Main Line 2 Project” and has promised to continue pressing the matter with officials and ministers at every possible opportunity.

Subsequently, the Brighton MP has written to Lord Steve Bassam of Brighton, who is well-known as a keen supporter of BML2, suggesting a bi-partisan approach to raising the whole profile of BML2 within political realms. He said: "I was interested in Lord Bassam’s tweet and it occurred to me that a bi-partisan approach to this issue might have a great deal of impact. The re-opening of the line has been discussed for many years but little or no progress has been made. Interest in the project remains very high though and I pay tribute to those who have kept this issue alive. The time for action is now."

So successful has the new £100m Amex Stadium at Falmer for Brighton & Hove Albion been that another 8,000 seats are to be provided. The Albion says it will “fund an independent travel survey for a 30,000-seater stadium, which would look at how to get fans to and from the ground”. This would include sustainable transport options in the current disagreement about how and where parking for 1,000 cars might be provided.

BML2 Project Manager Brian Hart said afterwards: “Only BML2 can deliver direct train services between London and Falmer. This is just one of many advantageous reasons why Brighton needs this superior and sustainable transport link to the capital.”

Coalition’s commitment to Lewes – Uckfield questioned

Dissatisfied with the answers given last month by Earl Attlee, the Government’s Transport Spokesman in the House of Lords, further questions have been tabled this week by Labour Peer, Lord Berkeley:

 

He asked Her Majesty’s Government: “Further to the answer by Earl Attlee on 6 October, whether the route of the former Lewes – Uckfield line is safeguarded by Wealden and Lewes District Councils and by East Sussex County Council; and whether any new county road construction in Uckfield crossing the route of the line and proposed new station will use a bridge to enable the line to be reopened at a later stage.”

 

Responding, Earl Attlee said: “A Safeguarding Direction can only be issued by the Secretary of State. There is no such direction currently in place for the Lewes – Uckfield line.”

 

He went on to say: “However, the trackbed is protected from development by the planning policies of both Wealden and Lewes District Councils. Whether the proposed new road in Uckfield is built with a bridge over the trackbed is a matter for the County Council and the planning process”.

 

Campaign Director Brian Hart said afterwards “This statement should not only ring alarm bells in Network Rail – which said recently it will protect the route – but also among MPs and all those regional authorities between London and Brighton who support reopening this main line.”

 

Following abolition of County Structure Plans in 2004, the route’s only protection lies within recommended policies in the replacement ‘Local Development Frameworks’ of the much less-powerful District Councils. However, East Sussex County Council, as the local transport authority, will have no difficulty over-riding them.

 

Given the serious implications of this issue, as voiced by Transport Minister Norman Baker, a Safeguarding Direction should be issued immediately by Justine Greening, the new Secretary of State for Transport. Many people will hope Norman Baker will pursue this – as he did in opposition. We also think Wealden MP and Energy Minister Charles Hendry, in whose constituency the land falls, needs to speak to the Secretary of State.

 

In 1999 Norman Baker wrote to Labour’s Transport Minister Glenda Jackson, saying:

“Dear Glenda, You will have received a letter early in July from Brian Hart, of the Wealden Line Campaign, concerning a planning application to redevelop Uckfield station. Mr Hart feels that this application would prejudice the reopening of the Lewes to Uckfield Railway Line and I am writing to you to let you know that I share this view. I am also writing because it appears that the application is being pursued by Rail Property Ltd which, unless I am mistaken, operates under the British Rail umbrella. There is of course a moratorium on rail land sites in place, and I am at a loss to understand how this can be progressing, particularly as the implications of it are so serious. Could you please clarify for me whether this is being pursued by British Rail and if so what action you feel able to take to stop it.”

 

The ultimate irony is the Conservatives can only pursue selling this strategic railway land because they have the support of Norman Baker and his fellow Liberal Democrat MPs.

Villiers reaffirms interest in Lewes–Uckfield to Baker

In a letter about the threat of another East Sussex County Council road scheme slicing across the safeguarded Lewes–Uckfield trackbed, Rail Minister Theresa Villiers appears eager to reassure her departmental colleague and Coalition partner Norman Baker.

She told him “Given the importance of the points raised by Robert Chubb [sic] in his letter, and my personal interest in this issue, there were various matters on which I asked for further briefing from officials.” She also made the point “I am very much aware of your long-standing support for re-opening the Lewes–Uckfield line” and said he was “correct that both parties in the Coalition have expressed support for protecting track beds where possible”.

She referred to the route being “safeguarded by both Wealden and Lewes District Councils” as part of the changeover towards “Local Development Frameworks”. This shifts responsibility away from County Councils following the abolition of County Structure Plans.

Mrs Villiers said she had spoken to the DfT’s Head of Property, Malcolm Twite who “assures me that the plans have been specifically designed to ensure that they would not prevent the Lewes–Uckfield line from re-opening in the future”. She had also been advised that “the proposal to move the road could actually make it easier to put together a case for re-opening the railway. This is because a re-opening would, in all likelihood, require a bridge to be constructed.” She continued “Although there was a level crossing when the line was formerly in use, you will appreciate that the current policy of Network Rail and ORR is not to introduce new level crossings. I am advised that it would be easier and more cost effective to build a bridge over the railway using the new alignment for the road rather than the current one.”

However, BML2 project manager Brian Hart said “Firstly, we are advised that the County Council, as the Local Transport Authority with wide-sweeping powers, will be able to override any so-called ‘safeguarding’ by the less-powerful district councils, so I fear this is a hollow guarantee. Secondly, no one has ever suggested the old level crossing should be reopened because it’s quite obvious a bridge will be necessary. The problem is that the County Council intends slicing the critically-important station site completely in two with this new ground level road. This will worsen the business case for reopening because the road will have to be elevated over the station and railway, or moved elsewhere to allow trains to pass through. This is simply loading costs onto Network Rail.

Mrs Villiers also mentioned the impact a redevelopment of the site would have on the trackbed. She told Norman that the BRBR (the Rail Property Board) would “retain ownership of the freehold” – although this refers only to a narrow linear strip which would be used as car parking associated with the new buildings. “A term would be

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