Business leaders, politicians and rail users stated the case for high speed rail services to be extended to 1066 Country at a rail summit on Friday (October 6).
Amber Rudd, Hastings and Rye MP, hosted the event at Sussex Coast College in Hastings.
At the summit it was revealed that extension of the high speed rail link from Ashford to Hastings and Bexhill is expected to be a reality by 2024 at the latest.
Ray Chapman, chairman of East Sussex Rail Alliance, said: “We have had a lot of changes on the Hastings to London route. Amber Rudd is the first MP actively to take on rail and we have seen some massive improvement, particularly on the Hastings to Charing Cross route, securing a much faster peak-time service.”
Huw Merriman, Bexhill and Battle MP, said: “Every single MP will tell you that rail is vital to their constituency, but no more so than the areas Amber and I serve. It can take up to two hours to get to London by train from Bexhill but from London to Milton Keynes it can take as little as 30 minutes.
“Over the last 12 months Amber and I have attended 26 rail meetings. This is a single case issue that we both spend a lot of time on. All of this involves listening to our constituents.
“We feel collectively if we all bang our head against that wall we can knock it down.”
Mr Merriman said he and other campaigners wrote to Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, after he took on the role in July last year to state the case for extension of the HS1 (High Speed 1) line from Ashford in Kent to Hastings and Bexhill.
Such a line upgrade would mean a 78-minute train journey from Bexhill to London’s Kings Cross and 68 minutes from Hastings.
Mr Merriman said: “We wrote to the Chancellor to remind the Government of the project and why it means so much to our constituents.
“We have also met with the chief executive of Network Rail.
“These things don’t happen by chance. It takes a lot of chasing, campaigning and lobbying.”
Rupert Clubb, director of communities, economy and transport at East Sussex County Council, said: “Investment in the Hastings and Bexhill area is an absolute top priority.
“Only two years ago the Bexhill-Hastings Link Road opened, opening up housing opportunity and employment space, significantly improving the transport infrastructure for the area.
“It is somewhat perverse that you can travel on a train from London Euston to Birmingham New Street in less than an hour and a half, a distance of around 120 miles, but the journey to London from Hastings and Bexhill can take up to two hours.”
Consultancy firm Mott MacDonald was commissioned to undertake a study to see how high speed rail links to London would benefit 1066 Country.
Stephen Cox, head of economic and social development for Mott MacDonald, outlined the initial findings at Friday’s rail summit.
He said London was set to dominate economic growth in the UK in coming years, leading to an increase in commuting to the city. It would also lead to increased opportunities for firms to grow outside of London or for new ones to locate in the county.
Mr Cox added that infrastructure investment such as high speed rail would help alleviate bottlenecks on London’s growth and help redistribute some of the growth from London and the rest of the south east.
He said high speed rail could act as a ‘game changer’ for 1066 Country, attracting investment and making the area a more desirable place to live and work.
Paul Maynard, parliamentary under-secretary of state for rail, accessibility and HS2, said: “We are more than aware of the case for investment in rail services here (in 1066 Country). Your message has been heard.”
Ms Rudd, who is also Home Secretary, said: “Any major changes to infrastructure involves planning over a number of years so it’s important that we continue to have annual rail summits like this.
“I am impatient for faster rail services for Hastings and realistic in getting the commitment and support from local rail user groups.
“There is a lot of optimism and excitement about these ambitions being achievable and rest assured Huw and I will be driving forward this in Parliament as well.”