Grayling urged to consider ‘A railway that works for everyone’
Published on Monday, 12 December 2016 00:28
Two views of Barcombe Mills from the same viewpoint. On the left when trains ran between Uckfield and Lewes before
the aborted Lewes Relief Road scheme caused closure and on the right Edwina Currie, ex-Tory politician cycling along the old trackbed
Economic Secretary to the Treasury and Sussex MP Simon Kirby (Brighton Kemptown) has written to the Secretary of State for Transport, the Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP, requesting that he meets the Brighton Main Line 2 Project Group.
In the wake of serious commercial interest in BML2 now being shown by international investment companies, a briefing meeting was held on Friday 2 December to provide an overview of the latest proposals to Simon Kirby and Maria Caulfield MP (Lewes), as well as Cllr Geoffrey Theobald, Conservative Leader on Brighton & Hove City Council. All three are well-known locally for having championed BML2 from the outset.
It is encouraging that investors remain undeterred by the referendum result; indeed, it appears that they are keener than ever to roll up their sleeves, bring their expertise to these shores and get this formidable project off the ground as soon as possible.
A slide presentation outlining more ambitious plans within London was given by the BML2 Project Group – which has recently been registered as a limited company. All proposals strictly adhere to the three-phase approach of BML2, ensuring the Sussex and Kent phases remain fundamental. Both are crucial to guaranteeing the success of the far more ambitious London phase.
For those new to the project, the first two are principally reinstating the former double-track main line rail links into both Tunbridge Wells (West) and Lewes via Oxted. Additionally, BML2 includes constructing Ashcombe tunnel (1.5 miles / 2.4km) beneath the South Downs to provide fast, direct access into the City of Brighton and Hove via Falmer. Thus, the all-important second route to the Sussex Coast is achieved and delivers all the much-needed additional capacity which is required. Altogether, Eastbourne, Seaford, Newhaven, Lewes, Brighton, Bexhill, Hastings, etc, would equally gain an additional, direct fast main line to London and beyond. Consequently, in its entirety, this would see former Chancellor George Osborne’s aspiration of greater additional capacity between the Sussex Coast and the capital.
In recent months particular interest in BML2 has been shown within Canary Wharf. This is because subsequent enhancements to the original concept have substantially increased its potential. Precise details are expected to be disclosed in the coming weeks, but the plan would provide superior connections in the Stratford area and bring many benefits.
In his response, Simon Kirby issued a press release saying: “Following a meeting last week with the BML2 Project Group, I have written to the Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling asking him to consider holding a meeting with them in early January. I believe that this project could be a long-term solution to resolving some of the problems on the existing line.”
Perhaps appropriately, BML2 has been described as a project to deliver ‘a railway that works for everyone’ – be they top executives, everyday hard-pressed commuters or off-peak travellers. The railway is a critical element to a successful thriving economy, especially in such an overcrowded part of the country where it remains the supreme mass-mover of people.
Equally supportive is Lewes MP Maria Caulfield who wrote an erudite and powerful article in Saturday’s Daily Telegraph. After commenting that Government intervention was long overdue on the current Southern dispute, she moved on to the fundamental problem of worn-out infrastructure struggling to cope with twenty-first century demand. Echoing the previous Chancellor’s assessment she declared: “Sussex is in desperate need of extra capacity, and the best way to create that is a second main line from the south coast to London. A proposal for this already exists: Brighton Main Line 2 (BML2) would create a new route from the coast up to Canary Wharf which would take pressure off Brighton Mainline 1, making it easier to upgrade and maintain those creaking old tracks.”
She went on to tell its readers: “This project could begin in as little as 18 months; a feasibility study is already on Mr Grayling’s desk and foreign investors are waiting to fund it.”
Ending the industrial action, monitoring performance, investing in upgrades and building a new main line, was, she declared, the way forward – “Taken together, this is a blueprint for bringing efficient harmony back to the network which links some of Britain’s most beautiful countryside with our thriving capital.”
Just as appreciative of the crucial role which BML2 could play in the south is Brighton’s Green MP Caroline Lucas who has been piling pressure on the Government to release the long-anticipated and very overdue £100k study begun last year. Tabling further questions in the House of Commons this month over when the Government might oblige, Caroline was despatched the following answer from HM Treasury on 1 Dec: “The former Chancellor commissioned the London South Coast Rail Corridor Study in 2015, which looks at the region’s rail transport needs broadly. The Study considers the case for investment in the Brighton Main Line, re-opening the Lewes-Uckfield line, as well as the ‘BML2’ concept, for a new mainline to London. The Government will publish the London and South Coast Rail Corridor Study, and its response to the recommendations, in due course.”
It has also been reported that Secretary of State Chris Grayling acknowledged the report had been on the table for far too long and promised that he would publish its findings very soon.
All-party support is also promised with long-standing BML2 champion Lord Bassam of Brighton offering to assist within London and the Houses of Parliament as the groundswell of backing behind the south’s premier project increases.
Meanwhile an Open Letter to Chris Grayling is being circulated among the region’s councils urging “the Government to follow the Chancellor’s lead in taking this project seriously and doing all it can to deliver BML2 as soon as possible.”
As we approach 2017 and with international investment lapping on our shores, there could never be a better time to roll out the carpet and show that Britain really is – ‘Open for Business’.
You can also listen to Cllr Michael Lunn and BML2 project manager Brian Hart talking about BML2 on Uckfield FM