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.