The News


bringing important railway connections together


Left: Barcombe Mills on the main line which British Railways had planned to electrify by 1964 but was wrecked solely for a road scheme in Lewes.

Centre: Green Party Leader Caroline Lucas meets Brian Hart from the Wealden Line Campaign at Uckfield in 2004.

Right: Heading south on a 46-mile train journey to buffer stops at Uckfield rather than Sussex Coast destinations due to a 7-mile breach.

The greatest act of betrayal, incalculable stupidity and environmental sabotage is set to be inflicted upon the South East by both Wealden and Lewes District Councils.

The BBC reports ‘Former railway line set to become a cycle route’ revealing that officers from Wealden District Council (WDC) and Lewes District Council (LDC) are collaborating to create a nine-mile walking/cycle route between Uckfield and Lewes. The BBC’s Huw Oxburgh explained: ‘The route is expected to run along the former railway line and also take in Isfield, Barcombe Mills and Hamsey’. On Wednesday (8th May) WDC will consider the scheme; a planning officer saying: “It could link the two towns whilst providing a new green space corridor.”

The Wealden Line Campaign, launched in 1986, has unrelentingly fought throughout 38 years to have the 7–mile link between Lewes and Uckfield restored to the national mainline network. Campaign chairman Cllr Duncan Bennett said: “Following the last district elections we thought that a council with a ‘greener’ outlook would promote a truly environmentally sustainable means of mass transport. So to add extra cost and obstruction to the historic Trackbed Protection Policy is senseless. Reinstating the railway, which has the support of Network Rail and train operators, would benefit the whole region between the Surrey Hills, the High Weald AONB, the South Downs and Seven Sisters National Parks. Pollution such as exhaust and particulates from ever-increasing traffic in our towns, villages and countryside is a very serious threat. Lewes–Uckfield is not some meandering old branch line but a strategic part of a well-engineered secondary mainline which should be delivering its potential. The Cuckoo Trail it is not!”

The ‘Alliance for Wealden’ currently runs WDC – comprising 11 Green and 13 Liberal Democrat councillors. Green Party Cllr Jessika Hulbert is Chairman, whilst Liberal Democrat Cllr James Partridge is Leader. Neighbouring LDC is also jointly controlled by the Greens and Liberal Democrats, having 16 and 15 councillors respectively. Cllr Zoe Nicholson (Green Party) is Leader of the council and Cllr James McCleary is Leader of the Liberal Democrats.

This proposal will directly contravene the councils’ Policy (INF5 – Safeguarding of Infrastructure) which states: ‘As defined on the Policies Map, development will not be permitted which would prejudice the reinstatement of the following railway lines: a) Lewes to Uckfield; and b) Eridge to Tunbridge Wells.’

It is therefore beyond astonishment that those who sermonize with their environmentally-aware principles could even contemplate such a profoundly crass proposal – and which runs counter to everything they preach. The Greens only MP Caroline Lucas has been a faithful and formidable ally for many years in her unwavering support for the Wealden Line to be reinstated into the national network, saying: “It’s a scandal that there is no political will to reopen it since it is such an obvious case. The Green Party completely supports re-opening because it makes such obvious economic and environmental sense.”[2009] – “Not only would the new line ease congestion on the route to London but it would connect Brighton to towns in East Sussex, Kent and Surrey.” [2016]

Similarly, the Liberal Democrats have given solid backing to the reopening, famously championed for well over two decades by its leading advocate, former Transport Minister and Lewes MP Norman Baker: “Many former railway lines are crying out to be re-opened, not least the Lewes–Uckfield line in my constituency. The social, environmental and economic case for that is beyond question.” [2005] – “I remain fully committed to the restoration of the line between Lewes and Uckfield.” [2010] – “You know me well enough to know I will not let go of this particular issue.” [2001] – “The Wealden Line Campaign has consistently put the case for the re-opening and I congratulate those involved on their diligence and commitment in that respect.” [1998]

The ‘Greenway’ Plan proposes: ‘It would also be expected to assess whether it would be possible to accommodate both the Greenway and a single-track railway to ensure the reopening of the former rail line would be possible’. On what planet do these buffoons live? This is both incredulous and crass thinking from councils – which really should know better. Only last year Transport for the South East announced its hugely-welcomed visionary plan to establish mainline electric train services between Brighton–Lewes–Uckfield–Tunbridge Wells Central–London. This is eminently sensible, forward-looking and patently obvious regarding what needs to happen. It is theONE scheme in all their countless transport (road) proposals which will bring the greatest economic growth to the region; the most environmental protection and, not least, deliver widespread social benefits to many thousands of people right across the South East Region – and for the generations ahead.

East Sussex County Council (ESCC) was directly responsible for destroying the Uckfield line in the 1960s through its manic pursuance of its half-baked road scheme (Lewes Relief Road/Phoenix Causeway). This catastrophic action instigated a cycle of deterioration where there had once been direct trains between Brighton and London, as well as Tonbridge and beyond. After impoverishing the region, this local authority then had the temerity to whine that East Sussex’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product) was on a par with rural Cumbria – well who engineered that?!

For more than forty years ESCC had consciously worked against all those who want to see this vital ‘missing link’ reopened so that the Uckfield/Wealden line can once again warrant investment in its upgrading, redoubling, electrification and reap the soaring success and patronage that will unquestionably follow. It was not a Beeching casualty, but a victim of collective incompetency from council officials obsessed with road building, encouraged and financed by the notorious Transport Minister Ernest Marples whose dubious dealings in the 1960s ended in scandal. As we showed in our March website article, ESCC has consistently used its malign influence wherever and whenever possible to stop this reopening from ever happening.

So to say that we never anticipated such nonsense from the Greens and the Liberal Democrats is an understatement because we sincerely thought they were ‘on side’ in reopening the line. In its ‘2024 Plan’ WDC has the audacity to say its policies will “contribute to improvements in environmental, social and economic conditions” –“Tackle climate change” –“Create enhanced, safer, reliable and inclusive transport networks for all users” and most of all – “Improve connectivity by enhancing the transport network and creating a more integrated transport system”.This is hollow nonsense or as Boris Johnson more honestly called it – “all the green crap”.

Now get this – in their latest ‘Scoping Report January 2024’ on page 161 we are presented with these gems of enlightenment – as if we dimwits haven’t known this for years: “The public transport network within the District is currently considered poor” – well, who’d have guessed that? Further on it bewails: “In general terms, rail services in Wealden are located within the eastern and southern part of the district and there is no north / south rail network within the District itself” – and there never will be if WDC and LDC give ‘Greenway’ the green signal!

Beautiful Sussex, Kent and Surrey deserve much better than this myopic stupidity from Wealden and Lewes. If only we had councils on a par with the competency and vision of Devon which resolutely campaigned to get its 11-mile Dartmoor Line reopened, recently announcing over 550,000 passengers in its first two years of operation. Devon is also now on its way to reopening the Bere Alston–Tavistock Line. Yet here in the increasingly busy, over-built, over-congested, traffic-clogged, struggling South East, the Lewes–Uckfield link remains derelict rather than fulfilling its purpose – nurturing opportunity, connecting communities, bringing safer travel for all ages and making our glorious region a better, happier and wealthier place.

‘Greenway’ – this small-minded, going nowhere, low-calibre piece of worthless junk – put it straight into a household recycling bin and start CAMPAIGNING TO GET THIS RAILWAY LINE RE-OPENED!!!