Lords want rail land transference to Network Rail
Published on Monday, 11 June 2012 08:37
As part of David Cameron’s much-vaunted “Bonfire of Quangos”, Transport Secretary Justine Greening last month signed-off an ‘Impact Assessment’ on the proposed abolition of the British Rail Board Residual (BRBR). This used to be the BR Property Board which owned large amounts of valuable land and other BR assets prior to privatisation and which have been variously disposed of, or sold for redevelopment.
Sussex’s former station site at Uckfield – which is critically important for expanding rail capacity and reopening of the main line to the coast – still remains at serious risk of being sold-off, partly to facilitate a local road scheme. It had previously been removed from the sales list in 2000 following a timely intervention by Lewes MP Norman Baker, who persuaded Labour’s Transport Ministers Glenda Jackson and Lord Gus Macdonald to safeguard the site for future rail purposes.
The Assessment says that most of BRBR’s functions, properties, etc, could be transferred to Transport Secretary Justine Greening whereupon “they would be managed by a team of engineers in the Highways Agency”. Although the Uckfield site is purported to have a price tag of between £3m - £4m, it is beyond monetary value in terms of forming a vital part of the only alternative rail corridor between London and the Sussex Coast.
Lord Bassam of Brighton is acutely aware of the implications surrounding this latest development, whilst today (11 June) Lord Berkeley is challenging this move by tabling the following question in the House of Lords:
“To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether, as part of the proposals to abolish BRBR under the Public Bodies Act 2011, it will transfer the current BRBR land holdings at Uckfield Sussex necessary for the reopening of the line to Lewes, new station and car park, to Network Rail so that it can be retained for a future line reopening in furtherance of Coalition policy to invest in infrastructure as well as providing more capacity on the London to Brighton corridor.”
We contacted Lewes MP and Transport Minister Norman Baker, as well as Wealden MP and Energy Minister Charles Hendry, suggesting they pursue this important matter with Justine Greening and insist this strategic railway land is placed in the custody of Network Rail for future development as Lord Berkeley wisely advises.
Uckfield’s MP Charles Hendry has not responded; however, Norman Baker replied immediately, saying: “In my capacity as a local MP, I agree with your idea and have lobbied [Rail Minister] Theresa Villiers accordingly. You will, I hope, appreciate, that a minister is not allowed to use his or her position to advantage their constituency unduly, but obviously the fact that Theresa and I are in regular contact doesn’t do any harm.”
In another recent development, we’re pleased to report that another Sussex MP, Brighton & Hove’s, Mike Weatherley, has joined other political figures by throwing his hat into the ring alongside that of Brighton Kemptown MP Simon Kirby, by recently writing to the Transport Secretary seeking clarity over the Government’s intentions towards BML2.
Mr Weatherley says he is regularly contacted by the city’s constituents who are frustrated by overcrowding on trains on the London to Brighton line. In his letter, he has asked Justine Greening whether or not she thinks that Brighton Main Line 2 is a realistic project that is likely to come to fruition in the medium term.
He went on to say: “As a regular user of the slow and overcrowded Brighton main line, I am particularly interested in the BML2 campaign. Passengers pay huge sums of money and don’t get a fair return, so I hope that the Government will consider the enhanced main line as an option for investing in rail upgrades for the densely populated south coast.”
We await the response from the Government with interest.