The recent publication of the Department for Transport’s Connecting People: A Strategic vision for Rail ponders whether reopening closed railways, funded by new house building schemes, could stimulate local economies and improve transport.
Thanks solely to the long-running Wealden Line Campaign, inaugurated in 1986, Surrey, Sussex, Kent and Greater London are in the extremely envious position of having two main lines serving the capital reopened. Every serious threat over the past thirty years, including large retail outlets, residential accommodation, industrial unit encroachment, gyratory road schemes and a few others, has been vigorously fought – and won.
At the Campaign’s recent AGM, tribute was paid to its faithful and long-standing members, as well as those councils and Members of Parliament who have stood by the campaign’s aims despite all the odds and in the face of such adversity.
Accordingly it was with great pleasure that Lewes MP Maria Caulfield was, on Wednesday 29 November, able to stand up in the House of Commons during the debate to directly address the Secretary of State for Transport and ask:
“Can I specifically ask on the line reopening because we have the Lewes to Uckfield line in my constituency with the BML2 scheme that could be opened very, very easily, which would improve connectivity and put towns like Seaford and Newhaven on a mainline for the first time. We have private investors willing to put up over £15 billion to fund that. Would the Secretary of State use that scheme as one of the first to illustrate what really can be done?”
In a positively warm and welcoming manner Chris Grayling responded: “My Honourable Friend knows that I met the investors who are interested in pursuing this project, I have said that I am very open to doing so, I’m waiting with interest to see as they come back with the first stage of work that they are doing. I’d be delighted to see this route reopened and I hope that the consortium that is pursuing this project proves to be successful in what they are trying to do.”
The very substantial sum of money mentioned by Maria Caulfield will be principally consumed by the construction of BML2’s London Phase, which the prospective investors and consultants involved have proposed improving upon by means of a fast, tunnelled link between Croydon and Stratford serving Canary Wharf. Nothing boosts regeneration, investment and wealth creation like a new railway and BML2, by joining counties across the Thames and through booming East London, will be busy the day it opens.
Both Sussex and Kent phases are inexpensive and easy by comparison because both these are chiefly reinstatements of former railway lines which have been safeguarded for many years now. Without these, the Brighton and Tonbridge main lines would collapse under the strain to which they are increasingly being subjected. This is why it is so imperative that these highly contentious and enduringly regrettable closures in 1969 (Lewes–Uckfield and Ashurst–Groombridge) and in 1985 (Tunbridge Wells–Eridge) are reversed as soon as possible.
Maria Caulfield said afterwards: “With this new rail strategy announcement and the Transport Secretary’s renewed support we are a step closer to the reality of a second Brighton Mainline into London, through Lewes and Uckfield. I will continue to work alongside BML2 campaigners to ensure that this vital new infrastructure project will go ahead.”