BML2 boost as public support reopening railway
Published on Monday, 02 July 2012 08:34
The results of East Sussex County Council’s public consultation seeking solutions for traffic congestion in Uckfield have shown strong support for the railway. In one of its ‘Repeated Comments’ sections an overwhelming number of respondents said: “It is important to have the rail re-opening”.
Overall, a substantial majority (51%) chose ‘Option B’ to provide a 130-space car park within the station site – something which ESCC has been reluctant to implement.
Believed to be the County Council’s preferred option, ‘Option D’ – a new road built on the trackbed – came a poor second (37%). However, even a quarter of those who chose this option considered it would make no difference to road congestion or even worsen it.
ESCC reports: “Within the consultation responses there was considerable support for the re-opening of the Railway line (Smarter Choices Question 3 showed that 70% were in favour), and there were a small percentage of respondents who were against it. The question of whether people were in support of the rail line was not asked as part of this consultation process; however, the schemes presented would not prevent the reopening.”
On this we disagree because ESCC could never afford to subsequently build the so-called Phase 2 of its Option D costing £15m - £20m (an enormous flyover across the railway). This cost would have to be borne by Network Rail and become another financial obstacle to reopening the line.
Nevertheless, the document ‘Uckfield Traffic Improvements: Consultation Results’ which is downloadable on ESCC’s website claims: “The County Council continues to support the reinstatement of the Lewes-Uckfield line, as set out in our Local Transport Plan, despite the outcomes of Network Rail's 2008 study which identified that although it is feasible to reinstate the line, there is not a strong enough business case for Government and the rail industry to fund the project.”
It also states: “The Lewes-Uckfield railway line is protected within relevant local planning documents and the County Council, along with other partners, will continue to make representations to the rail industry in support of reinstating the line.”
We remain unconvinced. However, if ESCC is genuinely dedicated to the line reopening, then it needs to make this a top priority – well above all other rail improvements. The council should be campaigning for the restoration of rail services between its heartland and the Sussex Coast which have been absent for over four decades. Equally, this should take preference over faster, or additional, rail services to towns which already enjoy a very good intensive train service. If such was the case then perhaps everyone would be more inclined to believe ESCC’s statement.
We are certainly not blind to the need for local road improvements and we are not anti-car by any means, but absolutely nothing must be done to impair the reopening of the railway, add more to its cost, or destroy its future prospects.
The economy and well-being of the south eastern counties bordering London depend more than anywhere else in the UK on rail because the region would come to a grinding halt without its rail network.
Above all, BML2 has demonstrated how critically important the Sussex Phase is; not just to the ‘bigger picture’ but to desperately-needed rail expansion across the region, embracing Kent and Surrey and especially London’s lifeblood connections, both south and north of the Thames.
We have a common goal – to deliver a modern transport system that facilitates growth in the economy, enables superior connections for its citizens and protects the south’s precious environments. The railway is supremely adept at providing this and no other mode can compete – which is the reason why, despite the severest recession in decades, we are witnessing, year after year, phenomenal growth in rail usage.
As Lord Bassam said recently, we should all be working for the greater good and getting behind BML2.