The next steps in bringing high-speed rail to 1066 country were discussed by a working group at Westminster set up to do everything it can to make it happen.
HS1 would be a ‘gamechanger’ for the area that would supercharge its economy bringing new jobs and opportunities, it was claimed by a report in October.
The working group was chaired by Hastings and Rye MP Amber Rudd and representatives from across the area decided to campaign together on the issue on Thursday, February 25.
“This is such an important issue for this area, so it is only right that local MPs, councils and business groups should come together to give this campaign the best chance of succeeding,” Ms Rudd said.
The group, also involving the Bexhill and Battle MP Huw Merriman, discussed the steps needed to bring the Javelin trains from London to Rye, Hastings and Bexhill.
Network Rail presented the line and station improvements needed and set out how services on the Marshlink could be upgraded in the interim period.
The group resolved to campaign for the realisation of this ambition with a strong and unified voice, as its members signed a joint letter to transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin MP.
“Everyone left the meeting with a strong sense of what is required to bring about this vision, which would provide a fantastic and unrivalled opportunity to attract investment and to turbocharge our area’s ongoing regeneration,” Ms Rudd said.
“I was pleased with what I heard from Network Rail, and me and my colleagues in the group will be pushing hard to make sure these plans are reflected in spending commitments in the next investment period for the first stages of the High Speed project.”
The project aims to electrify the Marshlink allowing for high-speed Javelin trains to serve Bexhill, Hastings and Rye from Ashford, which would link up to the HS1 route to London St Pancras.
It is claimed this would reduce journey times to the capital by 20 minutes and would be worth £350m to the area’s economy.
Huw Merriman chaired the meeting at the De La Warr Pavilion which presented the business case and he fully supported his fellow MP’s campaign.
“The delivery of high-speed rail is one of the fundamental pillars to growing our local economy,” he said.
“I am delighted to support Amber Rudd with her vision for this project and through this new group, will continue to champion this investment at every opportunity in the House of Commons.”
The report said the access to HS1 would create 629 jobs and generate £27.4m per year, and £354.3m over the next 30 years, as people would be able to commute to London and tourists’ journeys would be quicker. Day trippers would ‘significantly increase’ and would generate £4.7m by 2028.
The meeting included representatives from all the local authorities Hastings Borough Council (HBC), Rother District Council (RDC) and East Sussex County Council, all of whom back the campaign.
HBC leader Peter Chowney said: “This was a very productive meeting, and although there are clearly challenges, I look forward to the day when we can travel from London to Hastings by train in under 70 minutes.
“Hastings continues to get better and better, and reducing the journey time between here and the capital by up to 30 minutes really will be a game-changer for us.”
The project hangs on Network Rail and the government including it in the upcoming Kent Route Study, which would support its supposed need.
A Network Rail spokesman said: “Network Rail is examining ways to improve journey times between Hastings and London, including electrification of the Marshlink line and redesigning the railway junctions at Ashford station.
“We are also looking at line speed improvements to the Marshlink, which could improve journey times more immediately.
“These will form part of the Kent Route Study, looking at improving the railway of the region – including the lines to Hastings – for the next 30 years. This will be published in draft form this autumn.”
Rail campaigners are being included in the project such as the East Sussex Rail Alliance (ESRA), which has been calling for improvements for years. ESRA’s co-chairman Ray Chapman represented the group and Hastings and St Leonards Rail Improvement (SHRIMP) and said he was excited by the scheme.
“We were very impressed with some of the solutions that Network Rail have put on the table,” he said.
“Network Rail will be presenting at the forthcoming Hastings rail summit surrounding this on-going and exciting scheme.”
Businesses are set to be the main the beneficiaries of bringing high-speed rail to 1066 country.
The report claims the Javelin train service would support £19.9m worth of business growth a year and 667 years of house building.
Bexhill Chamber of Commerce vice-president Howard Martin was invited to the Westminster meeting and stressed the importance of lobbying those in power through letters and campaigns to ensure the scheme happens.
“From Bexhill’s point of view, the high-speed rail link is a very important thing that the chamber is campaigning for. It’s great to see our MPs Amber Rudd and Huw Merriman campaign getting a lot of support for from Network Rail, as well as representatives from RDC, HBC and ESCC,” he said.
“It’s very important that everybody lobbies for the high-speed rail link because it’s the kind of regeneration injection that the area needs.
“High-speed rail needs to happen as we have been left behind in terms of growth and it will put Bexhill on the map.
“The Chamber of Commerce is fully supportive of the MPs’ campaign.”
SeaChange Sussex has already invested in infrastructure in Hastings and Rother, including the future Queensway Gateway Road and North Bexhill Access Road.
Its chief executive John Shaw, who was also at the meeting, said: “I fully welcome this initiative from Amber and the other members of the working group to bring high speed rail to East Sussex.
“It’s universally accepted that this will provide a powerful boost to the economic development of the area and complement the other initiatives under way to improve transport links, business premises, housing and skills.”
Mott Macdonald’s Stephen Cox, the company hired to conduct the Hastings Rother Taskforce report, said the benefits of HS1 to Hastings and Rother would be ‘substantial’.
It currently takes around 112 minutes to get to London from Bexhill but this could be reduced to 78 minutes with the Javelin trains.
Hastings to London would take 68 minutes instead of around 100, and from Rye it would be under an hour rather than up to 85 minutes.
Bexhill and Hastings’ image and perception as a business location and a place to work and live would be improved according to the report.
The report was commissioned by East Sussex County Council (ESCC), Hastings Borough Council and Rother District Council.
Upgrading the current lines to London via Tunbridge Wells and Eastbourne would not be as viable as electrifying the Marshlink, according to the campaign group Railfuture.
The rail upgrade is estimated to cost about £150m but ESCC Cllr Rupert Simmons said the report made ‘an overwhelming case for the extension of the high-speed rail line’.
“While the business case is greater than we could have imagined, this is the first step and we will still have to wait for Network Rail’s report on the cost and feasibility of extending the high speed rail line,” he said.
The increase in the visitors and day trippers would be equivalent to 204 jobs and £7.6m by 2028.
The economic regeneration alone would generate 425 jobs and £19.9m per annum by 2023, equivalent to £269.3m over 30 years, as well as 910 dwellings over the planning period with an associated capital expenditure of £91m, creating 67 temporary construction jobs.
The perception that Hastings and Rother are inaccessible would be reversed.
To read the full report visit: www.eastsussex.gov.uk/highspeedrail.
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