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bringing important railway connections together

Kent & Sussex broken main line

Our broken main lines between London, Kent and the Sussex Coast must be a top priority for our new prime minister


One of the most astonishing statements to ever come from the DfT appears in a recent response signed-off by government Transport Minister Andrew Jones MP which states: ‘the [BML2] project has no clear strategic rationale, based on forecast travel patterns, jobs and housing growth’.

This view is certainly not shared by the private sector possessing business competence and commercial expertise – as well as those with political aptitude. BML2’s strategic rationale could not be clearer or more perfect in establishing a new and sorely-needed direct rail link across the UK capital between Croydon and Stratford. Its ability to connect communities on either side of the Thames is not only desirable but essential. A paramount attraction for business is linking London’s Gatwick Airport directly to Canary Wharf and Docklands – and exactly the same goes for Stansted Airport. And now, with Gatwick Airport having just announced it will press ahead with its second runway, the far greater capacity and new destinations offered by BML2 make it imperative.

It seems the DfT hasn’t woken up to what’s happening in East London where the growth in jobs, housing, retail, leisure, sport, culture and so on has been phenomenal – and still expanding as the London Evening Standard shows. BML2’s rationale is firmly based in forecast travel patterns where jobs and housing growth demand far better transport links than currently exist. The need for a fast rail connection across the Thames at this location should be blindingly obvious to the DfT’s civil servants; not least because Thameslink is a slow and tortuous route winding through congested Blackfriars, whilst Farringdon will only worsen as a bottleneck.

Whereas the project’s London Phase is demonstrably the most expensive as it requires 13 miles of tunnelling between Croydon and Stratford, consultants have shown it to be the best option in transforming travel patterns, opening up new markets and being a very busy railway right from day one. This is backed up by enthusiasm from overseas investment corporations who are seriously prepared to finance its construction.

Journey times to and from this expanding centre of the capital would be slashed dramatically with markedly substantial amounts of time saved, both for business and passengers. So what is the government’s principal argument for HS2? It’s time-saving – and BML2 has equally impressive journey time reductions.

More detailed design work has been steadily progressing on BML2’s Sussex and Kent phases to accommodate the large increase in services and flexibility the project will deliver for the South East. We have met planners from Tunbridge Wells Borough, Wealden, Lewes District and East Sussex County councils to outline proposals and emphasise the need to protect the required moribund routes and we’re pleased to report that the response has been positive and robust. A further welcome development is the new South Downs National Park Authority Local Plan which protects the trackbed and supports reopening the Uckfield–Lewes railway line through the hamlet of Hamsey. This ratifies the (entirely new-build) surface route designed by Network Rail in 2007 which enters the authority’s boundary and also forms BML2’s connection to both Eastbourne and Seaford via Lewes. The direct link to Brighton would be almost entirely concealed within Ashcombe tunnel beneath the South Downs and has been previously discussed with SDNP planning officers.

In other recent news the Taxpayers’ Alliance took part in ‘The Great British Transport Competition’ https://www.taxpayersalliance.com/the_great_british_transport_competition to identify schemes considered more beneficial and value for money than HS2. They said:

‘We asked all interested parties from across the United Kingdom to submit ideas for transport infrastructure projects. As the judges for this competition - including qualified surveyors, engineers, accountants, politicians and transport industry experts - we have been lucky to receive and assess so many fantastic entries from all around the country. The judging process began in early January and was concluded by early March. After many hours of detailed deliberation and discussion, 28 winning entries were chosen and the sum total of their construction costs came to £45.1 billion.

We were incredibly impressed by the high standard and variety of the entries we received. What particularly stood out was that many of the entries required only relatively small sums of money to achieve vast benefits for local communities. Thank you to everyone who submitted. Taken together, we believe these projects would dramatically transform the transport infrastructure of the nation and have a real impact on many peoples’ lives. All for less than the cost of HS2.’

We were pleased to see that a key component of BML2 – its Sussex Phase – was among the winners across the whole of the UK. The report explained:

‘The primary aim of this project is to greatly improve and enlarge the South East’s rail network. Restoration of Sussex’s second-most important main line requires rebuilding the 7 mile ‘missing link’ between Uckfield and Lewes to provide a new direct route from Eastbourne, Seaford & Newhaven to London via Uckfield.

In addition, the construction of Ashcombe tunnel beneath the South Downs would be built to deliver a fast, direct link into the City of Brighton & Hove. This would put Falmer, the home of Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club (Amex stadium) and the University of Sussex, on a main line to London and make these important and expanding destinations more accessible from Sussex, Surrey, Kent, London and East Anglia. The value of this [Sussex Phase] project is approximately £500 million, including the cost of replacing the dismantled sections.’

What impressed us most was the fact that the judges, with a wealth of technical and engineering knowledge, fully appreciated the importance of constructing Ashcombe tunnel through to the Great City of Brighton & Hove with all the economic and environmental transport benefits it will bring.

We are not suggesting BML2 is a replacement for HS2 (before webchats start accusing us of that!). It is not our place to become embroiled in the arguments around this expensive and controversial scheme which is passionately defended by HS2 Rail Minister Nus Ghani MP, whose Wealden constituency happens to embrace the Uckfield line with its short severed links to both the Sussex Coast and Tunbridge Wells. We are obviously aware of political opposition towards HS2 and its financial hurdles, especially now a further £30bn cost seems certain. The new government will have to take a position at some point, but might care to bear in mind that at the last general election Jeremy Corbin’s Labour Party manifesto promised: “We will build a new Brighton Main Line for the south-east”.

Top level political support is both desirable and necessary for BML2. Needless to say, we have unavoidably been caught up in the current inertia associated with the UK’s departure from the EU. Once there is a conclusion we can only hope the wheels of government may again start turning because there is so much that needs urgent attention and doing. It is in everyone’s interest that the past couple of years’ torpor will be replaced by new ideas, fresh vigour and energy and the will to ‘get on’ and prosper – there is so much to be done.

The new prime minister must welcome the proposals of business and the private sector in building new infrastructure and we hope the door of No.10 will be open with the ‘welcome’ mat firmly on show.

As our backers and partners have said, BML2 is a tremendous project for London and the South East, so it’s about time it finally receives political support at the highest level and the commitment it so rightly deserves to assist its delivery.