Grayling invites funders for Brighton Main Line 2
Published on Wednesday, 08 March 2017 14:34
The Transport Secretary has met with promoters of the BML2 concept and encouraged them
to continue to develop their proposals for it to be delivered and funded privately.
The publication of the Government’s delayed London and South Coast Rail Corridor Study is long overdue. In fact, it is nearly two years since the report was announced by former chancellor George Osborne in April 2015 during his tour of Sussex. It is also virtually a year since it was completed and delivered by consultants Parsons Brinkerhoff (April 2016). During that time we have witnessed demand rising apace on the South East main lines with overcrowding and poor resilience creating a daily struggle for millions of commuters.
We know many have been disappointed with some of the findings and the news. For example, the day after the report’s publication The Times declared: ‘Plans for a new railway line between London and the south coast have been scrapped because it would be too expensive’ whilst local TV and radio broadcasters carried similar stories. In fact, events of the past twelve months have quickly overtaken the report’s objective which was to examine whether there was a case for the Government to sponsor and fund a new main line between London and the Sussex Coast.
It was last spring that we entered discussions with a private sector led consortium and we are delighted that they and their international partners have recognised the sizeable potential and opportunities presented by BML2. Fully aware of the severe stress on Governments budgets, as well as commitments to other transport aspirations, the private sector perceived a valuable opportunity to invest in what it believes is a wholly worthwhile venture. Accordingly, the London & Southern Counties Railway Consortium (LSCR) has been specifically established to organize the promotion, funding arrangements, legal processing, scoping and detailed designing in order to deliver BML2 for the nation.
In regard to the newly-published study LSCR issued the following statement:
‘We welcome the publication of the London and South Coast Rail Corridor study. We are delighted that the Government has signalled its support for a private sector solution to solve capacity issues on the Brighton mainline. Our approach to a solution is focusing on developing a route that would provide new capacity for the millions of daily commuters, and to serve the areas of rapid housing and employment growth in the Southern counties and in South East London. The project is still at a relatively early stage and we are working through our pre-feasibility processes to create a viable and fundable proposition for investors. We look forward to ongoing engagement with Department for Transport officials and ministers in the coming weeks.’
With Prime Minister Theresa May triggering Article 50 this month – which will begin the process of Britain leaving the European Union – it is widely acknowledged that it is all the more important for a post-Brexit UK to cast its net far and wide to attract global stakeholders. For that reason, the Consortium has been working on the assumption that private sector funding involving international investors would be made available for 100% of the scheme.
As LSCR has pointed out, the accomplishment of the Chiltern Railways Project Evergreen has demonstrated that private sector developed infrastructure can be successfully delivered and integrated into the overall national network.
The Consortium perceived increasing Government appetite for private investment in UK infrastructure as the ideal opportunity to reposition the dedicated work of the Wealden Line Campaign’s Brighton Main Line 2 project. Aware that such a scheme can only be driven so far by a long-standing voluntary group, LSCR proposes elevating BML2 onto a fully professional, project footing capable of providing the very needful firm foundations which the private business sector would expect. Accordingly, LSCR’s pre-feasibility work has been modelled on the principal BML2 route options and, perhaps not surprisingly, has revealed numerous avenues for further route development where even greater value could be extracted. This process, known as optioneering, will see the project further refined in order to produce a scheme that is suitable for private sector involvement and investment.
Capable of doing something utterly beyond the appreciable limited scope of the BML2 project group, LSCR has brought to the table leading companies which have global expertise in infrastructure, economics, property and financing. This has transformed the scheme from just being a good idea to a thoroughly realistic proposition.
A spokesman for LSCR said: “We have been genuinely impressed by the commitment all those involved in this long campaign have shown over thirty years towards improving the prospects of the region and the lives of those who depend so much on the South East rail network. In BML2 we perceived a project of real value which could, if taken forward by professional companies, deliver tangible and substantial rewards for London and the South East, the rail industry and the people who live here. It was for this reason that we wanted to be involved. We sincerely hope that with the Government’s blessing and helpful co-operation we can bring this to fruition as soon as possible.”
So while some might be disheartened by the findings of the London and South Coast Rail Corridor Study, now we have that government green light to seek a private-sector led solution, and with a Consortium of private investors at the ready who truly understand the potential for infrastructure to unlock housing and power economic growth, there are many reasons to be positive about the future of the London and South East rail network.