Friday, 23 December 2011

The review of the year 2011 (top 10)

1. The Pfizer closure announcement

On the 1st February Pfizer announced that it would be closing its research & development centre in Sandwich with a direct loss of 2,400 jobs and another 2,400 indirectly, in contractors.

Local MPs Charlie Elphicke, Laura Sandys and Kent County Council led a task force to ease the impact of the closure. Subsequently Pfizer have announced they will retain 650 jobs, the site has been awarded enterprise zone status and rebranded Discovery Park and has been awarded a Regional Growth Fund.

East Kent to get £40m to fund jobs growth

2. The Open

The BBC's Dan Walker tweeted "Highlight of the day: just seen Jim Carver from The Bill in a curry house in Deal #SmallThings". For several barmy nights Deal came alive like never before, it was a great championship.

The Open 2011 photostream

3. HM Royal Marines concert

A fly over by a Spitfire and a Hurricane, Deal opera singer Rebecca Robinson and huge crowds remembered the 11 soldiers who were killed by the IRA in the bombing of the Deal Barracks on September 22 1989.

4. Deal and Sandwich go highspeed

Two days after the launch of this service returning to Deal at 140mph via HS1 I opened the Evening Standard and was delighted to read: Here's the Deal

A momentous day but the fight for a full service goes on.

5. Deal, Walmer and Kingsdown Carnival and Regatta Week

This is always a great week for the town which attracts huge numbers of visitors, but this year many agreed the fireworks from the pier were exceptional.

6. Deal Festival of Music and Arts

7. The Deal beach seal

This summer a young common seal pup was washed up on Deal beach which led a local celeb on an astonishing adventure.

8. Deal Town FC

9. Mystery man wakes on Deal beach

On August 17th a man walked into the Victoria Hospital suffering from head pains and amnesia.

10. The Big Deal

Forget the "Big Society" we have always had a strong community in Deal but this year it felt as though a renaissance locally and afar had rediscovered our truly great, historic and progressive town.

Folkestone (Growth)
Ramsgate (Regeneration)
Deal (Tourism)
Canterbury (Prosperity)

Monday, 12 December 2011

A request to the new Secretary of State for Transport for a full highspeed service to Deal and Sandwich before 2014.

The 06.24 highspeed service arrives at Deal station

Southeastern claimed there was no business case for it, yet the new highspeed train service for Deal and Sandwich has been keenly subscribed. Journey times have been slashed to 80 minutes with improved reliability and punctuation compared to the notoriously slow and intermittent classic service.

The population of Deal & Sandwich with its surrounding villages is on a par with Folkestone and higher than Dover, more significantly it has one of the lowest jobs to population ratios in Kent even before considering the Pfizer closure implications.

The area has huge tourism potential and many people have already used the Friday night highspeed service to Deal from St Pancras to take a weekend break on the Kent coast. Equally important is the support highspeed services can bring to the new Enterprise Zone on the post Pfizer site at Sandwich - The Discovery Park.

The Kent Rail Action Plan presented to Theresa Villiers calls for all day highspeed services to Deal and Sandwich when the new rail franchise is awarded in 2014.

However it is clear from passenger demand that the current service needs increasing before 2014. There are only 3 trains serving Deal and Sandwich in the morning and 2 in the evening. By the time the peak morning trains reach Ashford International they are almost full which means many passengers boarding at Ashford now have to stand for the remainder of the journey.

The new Secretary of State for Transport, Justine Greening MP has already shown with the recent rail cap reduction success that she is willing to listen to reason and common sense. Roger Gale MP for Thanet North has recently stated the highspeed service on the North Kent line is of no use to East Kent.

Therefore I have written to the Secretary of State for Transport asking her to consider reviewing the current Southeastern highspeed specification with the objective of bringing a full highspeed service to Deal and Sandwich before 2014.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Smugglers, ghost ships and Christmas shopping - winter weekend breaks in Deal, Kent

Whilst the winter nights grow long and the stars are shining bright why not spend an inspirational weekend in Deal on the East Kent coast. With cosy warm traditional pubs overlooking glorious views across the English Channel and the treacherous Goodwin Sands, this once notorious smugglers paradise is rich in history and mystery.

The Goodwin Sands lying six miles of the coast of Deal have been responsible for over 1000 recorded shipwrecks. Some of the most famous ghost ships sail the waters which has caused countless tales of strange sights, lights and sounds from the sea mist.

Travel on Britain's first highspeed train service direct to Deal from London St Pancras on Friday night (Depart 17.40pm or 18.40pm) and return back in the capital early Monday morning (Depart from Deal 05.56am, 06.24am or 06.56am).

Stay in a world class B&B like Number One (Travellers Choice 2011 Top 10 B&B in the world), The Royal Hotel which was frequently visited by Lord Nelson or the renowned Dunkerleys Restaurant & Hotel.

Sample the delights of The Black Douglas Coffee House (Telegraph Best British Cafe with view), Deal Beach Parlour, the unique Dining Club, Middle Street Fish Bar (The Times Third best fish & chip shop in Britain), 81 Beach Street or The Court Yard Oyster Bar and Restaurant. Fancy a traditional pint? The Berry (CAMRA Branch Pub of the Year 2011), The Kings Head (10th Best seaside Pub in England) or the extremely popular The Bohemian and the soon to open The Just Reproach (Micro Pub).

Browse the quaint boutiques and shops of the High Street (Greencades, The Sugar Boy, Borough Wines, Poppy Belle) to list a few, you may find a real treasure item in one of the antique shops or find that perfect Christmas gift.

Deal Castle one of the finest Tudor artillery castles in England is now open weekends throughout the winter months and Tides modern indoor swimming pool with wave machine plus brand new tennis centre offer great leisure activities.

Once a naval stronghold. today the seaside town of Deal has a burgeoning? café scene. The Evening Standard 7th September 2011

Map of Deal
Useful Numbers

Friday, 21 October 2011

Opportunity is the new Deal

On the 5th September 2011 Southeastern extended Britain's first highspeed rail service to Deal station in Kent. It's hard not to be impressed with the Hitatchi Class 395 "Javelin" trains and there is a renaissance of commuters now arriving at Deal train station in the mornings to board the trains to London St Pancras.

Journeys times have been slashed (Stratford: 74mins) (St Pancras: 80mins) and the reliability of the service has been proven to be far superior to Classic mainline services. The service does cost a premium but an annual season ticket from Deal to London St Pancras equates to £20.15 a day which is competitive to road fuel prices, but admittedly it should be more competitive.

Although unemployment is rising alarmingly there are still plenty of job opportunities in London which has a vast and diverse career market. If you have skills which London companies can use and the right attitude there are always job opportunities. Commuting is not for everyone but when you consider the higher salaries and career options it can be appealing. It is in the interest of everyone in Deal that the highspeed commuter service grows, as Kent County Council who are funding this service have stressed "use it or lose it". Commuters earning higher salaries in London bring additional money into our local economy and it also increases the likelihood of a full highspeed service being introduced.

It's not one way traffic either! Friday night services from St Pancras to Deal have seen the highest passenger numbers as people have taken the opportunity to travel down direct to Deal via highspeed for a weekend break, which has taken Southeastern a little by surprise. This is fantastic news for our shops, hotels, restaurants, pubs, attractions... etc and should be encouraged as we have a unique identity in Deal which should be shared and capitalised on. I can't help conclude the noticeable improvement and investment into our High Street recently has been helped by the introduction of the highspeed service.

Westfield Stratford City Jobs

Monday, 17 October 2011

Deal station

I am sorry that the toilets at Deal station have been closed for a few weeks. I can confirm that the toilets were closed due to a burst water main. I understand that the water main has been repaired, but there remains insufficient water pressure to adequately feed the toilet systems which has resulted in a two hour wait between flushes. As this is unacceptable for public use, we are in negotiation with the local water company to address this fault.

Unfortunately, experience tells us that such problems can take a number of months to resolve, so I regret to say that it is unlikely that we will be able to open the toilets in the short term, and we cannot provide a timescale for when the problem will be rectified at this point in time. However, the local Station Manager, is only too aware of the problem and he is making every effort to ensure that it is resolved as quickly as possible.

Having said this, I understand that there is a separate disabled toilet at the station which is possible to flush more frequently, so we have been using this toilet on an emergency basis for those in desperate need of toilet facilities. In the mean time, the main toilets will need to remain closed until they are in a fit condition to use and passengers are advised to use on-train facilities wherever possible. I am sorry for any inconvenience or discomfort that may result whilst the toilets are out of action.

On a separate matter raised, I can confirm that Deal is covered by CCTV. Rolling out Secure Station Accreditation is split into 14 phases, with 9 completed to date. Deal is in phase 14, so there are no immediate plans to seek secure station accreditation at this location, but this will occur in due course.

I hope this information is helpful and thank you for your enquiry.

Yours sincerely

Daniel Westlake

Customer Relations Officer

Thursday, 29 September 2011

A transport hub is key to the future of Deal

On the 5th September 2011 Southeastern commenced operating a highspeed commuter service from Deal train station bringing journey times to the Capital down to 82 minutes. Argueably one of the most momentous events for the town in recent years.

Initial passeneger takeup has been good and continues to grow, perhaps not surprisingly the highest passenger numbers have been on the Friday evening service from London St Pancras to Deal.

An estimated 18 million people pass through London St Pancras every year and many will now see the Kent town name of Deal displayed on its destination boards. The huge London jobs market has become accessible to the residents of Deal which helps the local economy to grow. Equally important; visitors to Deal have modern direct access to the town which brings a huge boost to tourism.

Recently Deal train station has had a welcome facelift. However complacency does not secure the increased passenger numbers we need to make sure the highspeed service remains after the one year trial and to ensure the introduction of all day services.

Deal train station can suffer from anti social behaviour and needs CCTV coverage. The Department for Transport and British Transport Police have a Secure Stations Scheme which has already accredited some Southeastern stations. If you witness any anti social behaviour I urge you to inform Dover District Council and ask for secure station accreditation. The popularity of cycling to the station is also increasing and this would be encouraged with CCTV monitoring.

An increase to station staffing hours would also be of huge benefit, the recent suggestion by the McNulty report that station ticket offices such as Deal should close is pure madness in fact we need the reverse. Another seated shelter towards the Sainsburys end of platform 1 would be desirable. A review of bus services and how they can be integrated with the new highspeed service should also be investigated and a modern electronic notice board outside the station, detailing local facilities and attractions could also pay dividends.

If the funds are not available for these modest improvements then perhaps any agreement to allow further housing development in areas such as Sholden should include the provision to pay for them.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Commuters from Deal embrace highspeed service

Commuters this morning (Monday 5th September) at Deal station boarding the 06.56 Southeastern highspeed service to London St Pancras.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Late Summer weekend getaway Deal

Once a naval stronghold. today the seaside town of Deal has a burgeoning café scene. The Evening Standard 7th September 2011

Starting from the second weekend in September until further notice, why not get away to the Kent coast for a special weekend. Travel highspeed direct to Deal from London St Pancras on Friday night (Depart 17.40pm or 18.40pm) and return back in the capital early Monday morning (Depart from Deal 05.56am, 06.24am or 06.56am).

Stay in a world class B&B like Number One (Travellers Choice 2011 Top 10 B&B in the world), The Royal Hotel which was frequently visited by Lord Nelson or the renowned Dunkerleys Restaurant & Hotel.

Visit Deal Castle one of the finest Tudor artillery castles in England or the enchanting Walmer Castle & Gardens which was residence for the Duke of Wellington.

Sample the delights of The Black Douglas Coffee House (Telegraph Best British Cafe with view), the unique Dining Club, Middle Street Fish Bar (The Times Third best fish & chip shop in Britain), 81 Beach Street or The Court Yard Oyster Bar and Restaurant.

Bring your golf clubs as three of the top links courses in England are a stone throw away; Royal St George's, Royal Cinque Ports and Prince's. Don't forget your fishing rod in this mecca for anglers and what better spot than at the end of Deal pier the only new pier to have been built in Britain since the Second World War and it's 2009 RIBA Architect Awarded Cafe.

Browse the quaint boutiques and shops of the High Street (The Sugar Boy, Borough Wines, Poppy Belle) or leisure with Tides at their modern indoor swimming pool with wave machine and brand new tennis centre.

Fancy a traditional pint? The Berry (CAMRA Branch Pub of the Year 2011), The Kings Head (10th Best seaside Pub in England) or the extremely popular The Bohemian.

Blessed with glorious views across the English Channel the beaches of Deal, Walmer & Kingsdown are great for relaxing or offer a tranquil backdrop whilst exploring by foot / bicycle.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

National Rail publish highspeed timetable for Deal (5th Sep)

National Rail enquiries have been updated with the exact timetable specification for the new Deal to St Pancras Southeastern highspeed service.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Highspeed train services for Deal and Sandwich to start a month early (September 5th)

The new Southeastern service will begin on September 5th - thanks to funding from Kent County Council. Services in the morning leave Sandwich at 05:50, 06:18 and 06:50, calling at Deal six minutes later.

In the evening there are two services to Deal and Sandwich, leaving St Pancras International at 17:40 and 18:40.

The new services will operate Monday to Friday and will take around 90 minutes.

Charlie Elphicke, MP for Dover and Deal said, "This marks the fulfilment of a key pledge to Deal. The service is vital to boosting the local economy. I am delighted that Southeastern has agreed to provide this service and KCC has been able to fund it. We need more jobs and money in Deal and the fast train stopping at Deal is a key part of that."

This is very welcome news that the service is to start early, however this does not complete the fulfilment of improved rail services to Deal and Sandwich. The population of Deal and Sandwich is larger than many Kent towns which already have all day highspeed services.

The economy of East Kent which has the lowest jobs to population ratio in the county needs a full highspeed service to encourage investment particularly into the Pfizer site and for tourism in Deal and Sandwich which is rapidly expanding.

A step in the right direction but not the end game.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

The Open Championship highspeed verdict

Following the incredibly successful completion of The Open, Southeastern has revealed that it carried 37,000 passengers to Sandwich to watch Darren Clarke win the claret jug.
This is a significant increase on the number who visited when The Open was last held at Royal St George’s when 30,000 came by train.

Vince Lucas, Southeastern service delivery director said, “We’re pleased with how smoothly The Open has been and our contribution in making the event a success. We were able to transport a large proportion of spectators and accommodate with the higher than expected numbers of people travelling. It is a testament to the hard work of local staff working together with other agencies in Kent. We hope many of those who came to Sandwich will take the opportunity to return to Kent, especially in the autumn when highspeed trains will begin operating from Deal and Sandwich on a permanent basis.”

I took the opportunity on the Friday morning of The Open to speak to some fans at St Pancras International station. They raised two issues which they were unhappy about, the first being that they felt Southeastern hadn't made it clear the service would make additional stops and not be direct to Sandwich.

The second point and this was also picked up by the national press was the walk from Sandwich station to Royal St George's. Many had expected a bus transfer service but Kent police prevented buses being laid on because of a lack of space around the station. This does raise the question did Southeastern management liaise with Kent police and if so why didn't they make an additional stop at Deal station where there is ample station space. Deal station was successfully used on each championship day as a coach transfer point for the Orient Express.

The new Southeastern highspeed commuter service for Deal & Sandwich will commence on the 3rd October, considering the huge additional profit gained from capitalising on The Open it seems unfair that any subsidy however small should be paid to Southeastern for the introduction of this new service.

I am also very concerned of reports that Southeastern plan more fare increases in January next year following on from this year's outrageous increases of 12.8% for East Kent. I hope Charlie Elphicke MP & Laura Sandys MP both stand up for East Kent against these potentially devastating fare increases to an area already under huge economic contraction.

The Open proved with a relatively small marketing budget that people enjoy visiting East Kent, perfectly summed up in the Telegraph as "party time for quaint corner of England as Sandwich and Deal welcome the golfing elite". The town's pubs, restaurants, hotels & attractions were in huge demand with many saying they were keen to return. The commercial viability of all day highspeed services to Deal are as valid as any other Kent coastal town and should be implemented as a priority.


Sunday, 19 June 2011

Deal to St Pancras in 70 minutes! (Stakeholder newsletter)

Southeastern have issued a franchise stakeholder newsletter dated June 2011 which states the new highspeed service from Deal to St Pancras will be approximately 70 minutes. This is quite a surprise as I had expected a journey time of 87 minutes and I am slightly baffled as how they can achieve this without a major timetable change. However as we have seen with the furore over their performance figures in the past, when it comes to maths they are always correct.

This is great news for Deal and a huge bonus for the town.

Another point of note is the new "delay-repay" compensation scheme to be introduced from July. Under "delay-repay", season ticket holders will be entitled to a refund of 50% of the portion of the fare for the journey if their overall journey is delayed by 30 minutes or more, and 100% of the single fare for delays of an hour or longer. Holders of daily and weekly tickets are already covered by the scheme.

The full newsletter is available here:

Sunday, 15 May 2011

An 87 minute Deal for the commuter

From the 3rd October 2011 you will be able to travel at peak times direct from Deal train station to St Pancras International in 87 minutes using the Southeastern highspeed service. The huge diverse London job market will become a far easier commute for anyone wanting a career in the capital. Hopefully the following sections will be of use if you are considering commuting from Deal but if you have any other questions feel free to email or tweet @hsdeal on Twitter.

Fare prices
The cost of peak tickets valid on highspeed services from Deal are comparable to the other Kent stations included in this service, however it is still an expensive outlay and needs to be considered in relation to how much more you can earn working in the capital. Buying a season ticket will reduce the cost, an annual season ticket will give you the best saving followed by monthly then weekly. If you also require the use of the underground this can be included and you have the option of including travel within zones or for the best price to a specific underground station only.

National rail season ticket calculator

You may find that your employer pays for your season ticket or they will loan you the money for your season ticket and allow it to be paid back via salary sacrifice.

St Pancras International

St Pancras International is set at the heart of Central London with more underground connections than any other London station. There are four main services from the station - Eurostar, East Midlands trains, Southeastern and First Capital Connect it also has free WiFi. Outside the station there our two Boris bike docking stations at Belgrove Street and St Chad's Street.

Commuting from Deal
The new morning service will start from Sandwich then call at Deal finding a seat should not be a problem and being able to just sit back and relax on the javelin trains can be quite appealing. The initial service will have 3 peak morning trains and 2* peak evening trains (*possibly 3) and will call at Dover Priory, Folkestone Central, Folkestone West, Ashford International, Stratford International and St Pancras International. A valid highspeed ticket is only required between Ashford International and St Pancras International, so if you commute only as far as Ashford you will be able to use the service with your normal peak ticket. If you use Twitter there is a #southeastern hashtag which commuters use to relay up to date service information and some of the lighter aspects of Kent's infamous train operator.

Useful Links

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Deal goes highspeed in October

Tonight Wednesday 27 April 2011 at Kent County Council's 3rd Rail Summit it was announced that from October, Deal and Sandwich will gain inclusion into the Southeastern highspeed network.

Three morning services will stop at Deal at 05.56, 06.22 and 06.52 with three services stopping in the evening departing from St Pancras at 17.40, 18.40 and at one later time to be announced nearer to the launch.

This is fantastic news for Deal and long overdue, the campaign to get all day highspeed services and improved mainline services for Deal must continue.

The immediate challenge now will be to make sure Deal is ready and able to maximise the benefit to the local economy that highspeed services can deliver.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Conservative cllr Julie Rook for making sure that Deal had a voice in the KCC Rail Action Plan. Over the last few months I have given Deal & Dover MP Charlie Elphicke a hard time which I am unapologetic but as I wrote in a previous post this was a key issue for his constituents and it appears he has delivered.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Charlie Elphicke: Ministerial ambition threatened by Southeastern

May to September 2010
Cast your mind back to last May, one of the key marginal’s the Conservatives needed to gain in the election to have any chance of returning to power was DEAL & Dover. Tory newcomer Charlie Elphicke was victorious and by September had held talks with Southeastern and Network Rail to discuss bringing highspeed trains to Deal and Sandwich. He commented "I am very grateful to Network Rail and Southeastern trains for agreeing to review connections. And for providing me with costings so I can make our case to the Rail Minister. I do not want anyone to get their hopes up yet - this is going to take time. Yet I am cautiously optimistic."

November to December 2010
Just a few days after failing to attend the Rail Stakeholders Forum attended by Vince Lucas, service delivery director of Southeastern to argue for the highspeed extension for Deal. MP Charlie Elphicke told the Express he would not be indulging in "populist" bashing of the train operator over the "service failure" on December 1st.

He said: "Of course it's frustrating, but everyone knows that thankfully this doesn't happen all the time and we need to get it clear as soon as possible. I'm not going to jump on the bandwagon, it's difficult for everyone."

January to February 2011
Maidstone and the Weald MP Helen Grant was not as forgiving to Southeastern over the service failure on December 1st which left Kent commuters abandoned and with no information. She arranged and attended meetings with Southeastern and Network rail to demand improved services and object to the extortionate fare increases imposed in the first week of January, 6.2% on average (12.7% for Deal).

March to April 2011
Maidstone and the Weald MP Helen Grant welcomed Southeastern's announcement of a new High Speed service from Maidstone West to St Pancras International, which is to come into service at the next timetable change on 22 May.

Recently Charlie Elphicke has stated that his "Peoples Port" proposal had taken up a significant amount of his time. The pinnacle of this proposal being the farcical referendum costing council tax payers £15K which was portrayed as The Big Society in motion for Dover District yet excluded Deal, Sandwich and the villages from a vote.

Residents in Deal will have also recently received their council tax demands from Dover District Council who have decided The Parish & town precept gross spend for 2011/12 is £805K for Dover and £376K for Deal, a huge financial imbalance as Deal has a higher population. My personal view is that Dover District Council can no longer be trusted with the best interests of Deal and on the 5th May council elections I will be marking my voting slip with "NO2DDC" (NO to Dover District Council).

The argument to the importance of Deal being included into the Southeastern highspeed network has already been won and is a key priority in the Pfizer Task force 30 day report. The recent Kent County Council rail action plan also states it as a key requirement of any new franchise award. But with an imminent announcement expected that Southeastern will stop highspeed services at Sandwich station during the July British Golf Open. The case for an immediate inclusion for Deal and Sandwich has never been stronger and rests with the Department of Transport. Our MP Charlie Elphicke is responsible for making the DfT see sense and as it is such a key issue for Deal it will be a decisive judgement on his ability from his constituents that put him in power.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Government must support HS1 momentum after Pfizer 30 day report

Following the announcement of Pfizer in February that it will exit its research and development facility at Sandwich, in East Kent, by the end of 2012, the Sandwich Economic Development Task Force delivered its 30 Day Report to Ministers on 15 March 2011.

One of its key recommendations is for significant transport improvements focused on the enhancement of high speed rail. Line improvements to bring Thanet and Dover journey times to London under an hour, a new parkway station to support Manston and the Pfizer site and the extension of highspeed services to Deal and Sandwich as a priority.

Unsurprisingly the task force were told by venture capitalists that better transport links set an environment conducive to new business. Many people in East Kent have argued since its introduction the Southeastern highspeed network, which excludes a large majority of East Kent, has resulted in the economic cleansing of the area.

The line improvements and parkway station will require time before they can be accomplished but extending the existing highspeed service to Deal and Sandwich stations can be achieved immediately. Localised access to highspeed services at Deal and Sandwich will enable sustainable economic regeneration. With the addition of shuttle bus services offering direct connections from station to the Pfizer site, this would lay the transport environment foundations so desperately needed.

There are currently plans to extend highspeed services to Maidstone West starting from May when the new Southeastern highspeed timetable is released. Surprising as Southeastern and the Department of Transport have long argued the reason for not introducing highspeed services to Deal was because the existing franchise would not allow them.

Now is the time for the Department of Transport to step up to the mark and also include Deal and Sandwich in the new May highspeed timetable. The cost of this initiative is negligible and would bring confidence and assurance to potential investors at the Pfizer site.  A step towards a real "Integrated Kent Franchise"...

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Adjournment Debate on Pfizer (rail services)

On Monday 7th March an adjournment debate on Pfizer's 60 years in Sandwich was attended by Laura Sandys MP (South Thanet), Charlie Elphicke MP (Dover & Deal) and The Minister for Universities and Science (Mr David Willetts). Whilst commendably speaking up for East Kent on a number of serious issues facing our communities since the Pfizer announcement, rail services were given particular attention and below are the key extracts:

Laura Sandys (South Thanet) (Con):
The east Kent economy has been crying out for years for better transport links: the area is 70 miles from London, but can take two hours to reach by train. The Minister experienced a very lengthy train journey of two and a half hours because of both a slow train and works on the line, so he knows that, per mile, Sandwich to London is one of the slowest rail routes in the country. I therefore ask for the Government's support for our bid to get the rail line from London to Thanet upgraded so that we can get to Thanet within the hour. That would revolutionise our local economy.

Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con):
I simply wish to support her point about the disgraceful transport links that we have to put up with. We need to get the fast line put in from Sandwich and Deal through to London, and we need Manston and the A256 corridor to be developed. That would enable us to have more jobs and more money, and would provide more effective business options for the people of Dover, Deal, south and north Thanet, and east Kent as a whole.

The Minister for Universities and Science (Mr David Willetts):
We decided immediately to invite Paul Carter, the leader of Kent county council, to lead a local taskforce that would assess the impact on the local economy and look at measures that could be taken so that the local economy was not damaged severely by this decision. Of course, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and I are waiting for the report that he will bring to us, but it is already clear that three key issues have emerged, all of which were touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet in her speech, the first of which is transport connections. It is clear that this is a long-standing problem in the area and, as she has said, it is one that I personally experienced in my painfully slow journey to Sandwich the other day.

Clearly, there are some important transport challenges, but my hon. Friend will understand that I can make no commitment tonight on public expenditure issues, which are matters for the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Transport, but she, her colleagues and Kent county council have made very strong arguments about the need for a transport upgrade in the area. I understand the different things they are calling for, one of which is an improvement in the rail service. A powerful argument has been made that reducing the journey time to London to less than an hour would transform people's perceptions of the site and its accessibility.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Thanet Parkway station would have required substantial Pfizer capital

The potential for a new Thanet Parkway train station adjacent to Manston Airport was identified in Kent County Council (KCC)’s Transport Delivery Plan for Kent, Growth without Gridlock, which was launched on 1st December 2010.
Kent County Council made a bid on (21st January 2011) for a £10 million Government investment for the Thanet Parkway station. The Access to East Kent bid, spearheaded by KCC's Councillor Nick Chard, hoped to grab a slice of the Regional Growth Fund, worth £1.4 billion, over the next three years. In addition to government investment, discussions were ongoing regarding a potential financial contribution from Pfizer Ltd.
On the 28th January Cllr Nick Chard (Con) who spearheaded the bid lost his job and was replaced by his deputy, Cllr Bryan Sweetland.
On the 1st February Pfizer publically announced it was closing the Sandwich Research and Development facility. During a discussion regarding the Pfizer closure decision at The Foundation for Science and Technology a Pfizer source indicated one of the key reasons was geographical isolation.
If the proposed Thanet Parkway station does get the go ahead in reality it will be many years before it will be completed and be of any benefit to the Pfizer site and the East Kent economy. It is vital that Kent County Council now concentrate immediately on extending the Southeastern highspeed network to stop at Deal and Sandwich stations and the possibility of shuttle bus services from each station to the Pfizer site. The cost of this initiative is minimal compared to the Access to East Kent bid and would bring instantaneous results.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

The Southeastern highspeed map of shame

"A picture is worth 5,000 jobs" (Pfizer permanent and contractual job losses)

Annual station usage season ticket entries


Folkestone West44,083
Station parking spaces

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Pfizer bombshell must prompt immediate Southeastern highspeed inclusion

The shocking news that Pfizer is to close the Sandwich research facility will have a devastating impact on the East Kent economy and the 2,400 employees and their families. Kent County Council leader Paul Carter is to lead a taskforce trying to ease the impact of Pfizer's closure decision on jobs and the East Kent economy.

He said it would "do everything we can to mitigate the impact of this decision and continue with our ambitious plans for East Kent. Many of Pfizer's workforce live in the area and are among the most highly skilled workers in Kent. This will also have a massive impact on the local people and the local economy that support Pfizer as a business."

An immediate initiative must be to make additional stops at Deal and Sandwich with the empty Southeastern highspeed trains which already pass through but do not stop.

Transport infrastructure is a key basic requirement for economic regeneration and sustainability, extending the highspeed network to Deal and Sandwich should be an immediate response.

East Kent has one of the lowest ratios of jobs to employed workforce in the South East and it's shameful exclusion from the Southeastern highspeed network and continued abysmal reduced mainline services throws serious doubt over KCC's claim that it has ambitious plans for East Kent. KCC and Kent MP's have been continually lobbied to improve train services to East Kent but the reality is that we have seen a dramatic worsening of services, increased journey times and extortionate fare increases.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Rail services in East Kent ~ Southeastern reply to Charlie Elphicke MP

From: Gibson, Mike
Sent: 19 January 2011 10:59
To: ELPHICKE, Charlie

Charlie Elphicke MP
House of Commons

18 January 2011

Dear Mr. Elphicke

Rail services in East Kent

Thank you for your letter of 15 December addressed to Charles Horton.  Charles has asked me to reply on his behalf.  I’m sorry for the delay in getting back to you, but the letter has just been passed to me by our customer services centre and if you could ask you team to address any future correspondence to me at the address below, I’ll make ensure you receive a prompt reply.

Before dealing with your questions, please pass on my personal apologies to all local residents regarding the poor rail service over December.  This was due to adverse weather conditions, namely snow and ice on the conductor rail (clearing this is a Network Rail responsibility) which meant our trains could not draw power.  This, and the related communication problems were explained by Charles in detail to Kent MPs at a meeting chaired by Helen Grant MP in Portcullis House on 8 December and a summary can be found in the attached letter to Helen dated 15 December and feel free to share this with your constituents.

I apologise in advance for the length of this letter, but in view of your constituents’ concern and the number of enquiries you have received want to give as full a reply bas possible.

Fare increase

I’m afraid that the high speed service does have to be paid for our franchise agreement provides for a premium fare. 

I appreciate you will be under some pressure on ail fares and I would like to go into some detail to the background to this and recent increases.

 Historically, the former British Rail (BR) charged on a “per mile” basis moving to demand-led pricing in the 1970’s.   BR was able to set fares as it wished, regional managers had a considerable degree of latitude when setting local fares and on privatisation we and other operators inherited a patchwork of fares that did not necessarily reflect passenger volumes from individual stations, or local market conditions.

Unlike BR, today’s train operating companies (TOCs) are not free to set fares as they wish.  This is because what are known as regulated fares, season tickets and “Anytime” tickets on routes where there is no competition to rail and where passengers have no alternative than to go by train, (mainly commuter travel into London) are controlled by Government and the level of increase in regulated fares is dictated by the policies set by this and the previous administration.   For a commuter TOC like Southeastern, these comprise the majority of our fares and the bulk of our income.  The only fares that can be set by TOCs are unregulated fares, for example, cheap day returns.

By way of background, when the rail network was privatised in 1995/1996, to guard against excessive profiteering, the Government of the day pegged increases on regulated fares at RPI – 1% which meant in real terms, the cost of rail travel went down year on year.   In addition, in order to incentivise train operating companies to improve performance and reliability, under the Customer’s Charter initiatives in vogue at that time, Government set a policy whereby season ticket holders would receive a discount of 5% on renewal if the operator did not meet agreed train performance targets.  This was hard-wired into franchise agreements as the Passengers Charter.  As you may know, previous holders of the Southeastern franchise did not meet these targets and passengers received the discount on a regular basis. Taken together, the combination of below inflation fare increases and a 5% season ticket discount meant that some of our fares were lower in 2006 than in 1996.

The shortfall in revenue was matched by an increase in subsidy and the concomitant impact on public finances resulted in the last Government’s policy of moving the balance of funding the rail network from the taxpayer to the passenger as detailed in its White Paper Delivering a Sustainable Railway which can be found on the Department for Transport’s website
This shaped the cost model of subsequent rail franchises and the shift to RPI+ fare increases.  For Southeastern, the increase was RPI + 3% as opposed to the RPI + 1% set by the Department for Transport (DfT) for other rail franchises granted during this period. The explanation given by the last Government for imposing RPI + 3% for the Southeastern franchise was because from 2000 onwards, the railways in Southeast England had benefited from disproportionately more investment in infrastructure and new rolling stock than other parts of the UK, which needed to be paid for.

As part of this RPI + 3% formula the DfT allowed us to vary regulated fare increases from individual stations by either plus or minus 5% in accordance with local market conditions.  Under the terms of our franchise agreement, 2010/2011 was to have been the last year that Government determined the RPI + 3% increase.  For the remainder of our franchise, fare increases in 2012, 2013, and 2014, would be RPI + 1%.  However, as a result of the Chancellor’s announcement in the Comprehensive Spending Review last autumn, the RPI + 3% formula will now apply for the remainder of our franchise.  And you may recall that the Secretary of State in his statement to Parliament on 25th November last year said ‘more investment is clearly needed.  That is why I argued for additional rail investment in the Spending Review, and it is also why I have taken the difficult decision to allow regulated fares to rise by 3 per cent above inflation for the 3 years from 2012 – to help pay for these investments’

Southeastern’s franchise agreement assumed that RPI+3 would be in place for the first five years of the franchise.  The Secretary of State’s recent announcement means that it will stay in place until the end of the franchise in 2014.  The additional revenue from this decision will therefore be recovered by DfT from us through existing mechanisms in our franchise agreement.  Therefore RPI+3 in Kent will go directly to pay for rail investments.

The RPI figure used when setting rail fares is that for July in the previous year and as the RPI figure for July this year was 4.8%, the average Southeastern regulated fare will increase by January 2011. This is an average increase, so some fares will rise by more and others by less. 

Fare increases are predicated on the level of Government subsidy, and the amount given to Southeastern started at £139.9M, in year one of our franchise in 2006 and will decline to £24.7M in year seven.  In year eight, (2014) we will be expected to pay a premium of £9.3M to the DfT to operate the franchise.  This is in accordance with Government policy outlined above of moving the balance of paying for rail services and infrastructure investment, such as Crossrail, the Thameslink programme and new rolling stock, from the taxpayer to the passenger.

While this may be little consolation to passengers facing fare increases, they are also taxpayers and a useful summary of the issues surrounding rail fares and government subsidy can be found in recent article in the Economist at

Some passengers have asked why the fare increase from their station is higher than that from others. 

As explained above, the combination of local, arbitrarily set fares in the BR era and RPI – 1% increases and performance-related season ticket discounts between post-privatisation between 1995 – 2006 meant that many of our fares were historically low and did not reflect market conditions.

To correct this and bring fares in line with those elsewhere in the Southeast our franchise agreement does allow us to levy an increase of RPI + 3% +5%.

In addition, Southeastern is in receipt of revenue support from the Government. This, requires us to minimise the fiscal burden on the Treasury by ensuring, so far as is possible, that the balance of the costs of paying for rail services moves away from Government and towards the passenger.

Although we are a private sector company I hope this demonstrates that the fare increases on the Southeastern network over the past four or five years have been in accordance with Government’ policy rather than excessive profit making on our part. 

 Obviously, no one likes paying more, particularly in the current economic climate, and it’s up to us to demonstrate that passengers are at least receiving value for money and I hope that since we took over the franchise in 2006, you have noticed some improvements. Despite negative media coverage, the high speed service is proving popular and is acting as a motor for regeneration in east Kent.   We are running more services than ever before and stations, notably Dover Priory are looking better and brighter and have seen significant investment.

Service specification

A number of your other questions current main line services to London Bridge and Cannon Street, the case for high speed services from Deal and the increase in journey times to Charing Cross (related to the increase in station stops) are directly linked  to our service specification.

To explain, the timetable we introduced in December 2009, including stopping patterns on HS1 and main line routes was based on the service specification we inherited as a contractual commitment from the DfT when we were awarded the franchise in 2006.  While we are able to amend the timings of individual trains, the level of service from stations is governed by the service specification which can only be amended by the Secretary of State.

While, the service specification benefiited the majority of people who use our services and has resulted in additional passenegr numbers, inevityably, there were those to wjhom hange was unwelcome and want these changes reversed, or additional services introduced.  This has been discussed with stakeholders at some length  and realistically, based on advice from the last Government, there will be no major change in our service specification until our franchise  re-let. 

To this effect thse changes as you will be aware, Kent County Council is currently consulting with stakeholders on its Rail Action Plan for Kent which will form the basis of Kent’s response to the DfT consultation on the next Southeastern franchise and is aimed at ensuring that all local aspirations are factored into the service specification.  Southeastern supports this initiative in order that the next service specification against which our owning group expects to bid, reflects the needs of all local rail users.

The process is being led by County Councillor Nick Chard, Kent's cabinet member for Transport and the Environment.  More details can be found on Kent County Council's website and Nick Chard has invited stakeholders with an interest in local rail services to contact him direct at  Dover District Council and the Trains4Deal group in your constituency are already involved in this process and you may wish to advise other constituents with an interest in local services to make their views known.


You refer to severe overcrowding on the standard (main line) service during peak periods.  We regularly monitor passenger numbers through a combination of manual counts and loading data software fitted to trains.  The latter by assuming an average weight of 75kg per passenger effectively weighs the train and tells us when and where the trains are busiest.  If your constituents could let me know the times of trains which are particularly busy, we can arrange for additional counts to be carried out, and if possible, more units can be added.

Connections at Ashford

In so far as is possible we will amend the times of individual trains to ensure convenient connections at interchanges such as Ashford.  If your constituents could let us know which services to or from Deal and Dover Priory do not have a convenient connection, please let me know and I’ll see what can be done in the next timetable change.  However, I have to emphasise that what might seem a relatively simple task of amending a train time by a few minutes may have knock-on implications on other services so you will appreciate that all such requests have to be considered on a network, rather than on a purely local basis.

Communications problems

You referred to our website not updating cancelled or delayed services during the bad weather in December.  This is explained in more detail in the attached letter to Helen Grant MP, but in brief, information provision during this period was impeded by failings in the download from the national train services database which is managed by Network Rail. This database holds all the information about the services which are planned to operate on any individual day. Due to an IT problem in Network Rail's mainframe computer system we received our download to our station based information systems extremely late which  meant that all the work done overnight to amend service information was overwritten by data which by then was out of date. There was a process failing within these systems that meant that the data sent from Network Rail’s timetable database contained duplicated information with both the normal and contingency timetables showing on certain parts of our network. This problem was not unique to Southeastern and other operators had similar difficulties. We have sought assurances from Network Rail that lessons have been learned from these problems and have received confirmation that the causes are understood and that remedial actions have been taken to avoid any recurrence.

I hope this goes someway towards answering your constituents’ enquiries but if you need further information, or would like a meeting with Charles please let me know.

Best wishes

Mike Gibson
Public Affairs Manager
Friars Bridge Court
41-45 Blackfriars Road