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Liberal Democrats on Kent County Council

Question by Rob Bird to Mike Whiting, Cabinet Member for Planning, Highways, Transport & Waste, Mike Whiting.

May 23, 2019 9:17 PM

Could the Cabinet Member for Planning, Highways, Transport and Waste please update the County Council on the current position with regard to Thameslink services due to start in Maidstone in December this year, and could he say whether there is any indication that this service, so important to the economy of Kent, may be delayed or cancelled once more?

Answer

Mr. Bird is absolutely right to recognise the new Thameslink service to Maidstone as being of importance to the economy of Kent. There have been persistent delays to the introduction of this service since the Department for Transport agreed to Kent County Council's request in 2014 to have the Kent terminus for this branch of the new Thameslink network transferred to Maidstone East.

The original date proposed for its introduction was January 2018, although this was initially to have been a peak-only service. This date was then deferred to May 2018, but with the benefit of an all-day service on Monday to Saturday, and so was widely welcomed. We then had a further deferral to December 2018, and then last year the latest deferral to December 2019 as part of a scaling back of the delivery schedule for the whole Thameslink programme following the debacle of the introduction of the May 2018 timetable across the wider Thameslink network.

I therefore wrote on behalf of Kent County Council to Mr Jo Johnson, who was then the Minister of State responsible for rail services at the Department for Transport, urging him to consider the adverse impact on Kent's rail passengers and the local economy of any further deferral of the Thameslink programme in Kent.

While Mr Johnson's reply was non-committal, Mr Bird subsequently received a more positive response to his letter to the Transport Secretary, Mr Chris Grayling, which confirmed that, and I quote: "… from December 2019, new Thameslink services between Maidstone East and Cambridge will also provide an extra two trains per hour in each direction all day".

Despite this reassurance from the Transport Secretary last year, there have been persistent fears within the rail industry of a further delay to the Maidstone East service. These fears have arisen from the overall delay to the introduction of each branch of the wider Thameslink network across south-east England.

But to be absolutely clear: it is my view that any further delay to the delivery of the promised Thameslink service to Maidstone East beyond December 2019 would be completely unacceptable, as many residents and businesses have made location decisions based on earlier information about the planned date of the Thameslink service on this route.
I shall therefore continue to press the Secretary of State for reaffirmation of this date for the new service, which will bring immense benefits to rail passengers from Swanley, Otford, Borough Green & Wrotham and West Malling, as well as to those from our county town of Maidstone.