The leader of Dartford council has said it is a national disgrace that Eurostar has been allowed to halt services stopping at Ebbsfleet and Ashford International stations.
Jeremy Kite fired a broadside at his own government over its failure to take steps to require Eurostar to restore services that it cut in the aftermath of the pandemic and said it was time it intervened.
In outspoken comments, he said the government should examine what steps it could take, including withdrawing the licence from the operator.
The company says it will not resume services that stopped at the two stations until 2025 at the earliest, potentially impacting jobs and the economy around the two areas.
Cllr Kite said: “It is a disgrace. The government should say to them that given the amount of investment that has gone into the infrastructure, you must put on a stopping service or we will reallocate the service to someone else.
“You cannot say ‘it is much better that we don't pick up passengers.’ A lot of public money has gone into this. I do think the government should go in there and put pressure on them.
“It has got licensing abilities and I think they should be using that leverage and say you have got to put back services at Ebbsfleet and Ashford.
“It is a national disgrace that fast trains are not stopping there. It is an economic failure because there are businesses who want to be there.
“I think it is a disaster; only the government can go in and say it will offer up the track to other companies.”
The government says it is unable to intervene, partly because it no longer had a share in the company. The Treasury sold the government’s stake in the company for £757.1m, hailing it as a “fantastic deal” in 2015.
But the Covid pandemic coupled with the downturn in the economy led Eurostar to cut services that stopped at the two stations.
Company chiefs had appealed to the UK government for a bailout but were rejected.
The company said it understood that local communities would be disappointed but that it had no real possibility of running services on a profitable basis.
In an interview in September last year, the chief executive Jacques Damas blamed post-Brexit controls for a 25% drop in the number of Eurostar passengers able to board services to Europe each hour at London’s St. Pancras station.
He said St. Pancras was only able to process a maximum of 1,500 passengers per hour assuming all border control booths were manned — down from 2,000 in 2019, before the end of free movement.
Cllr Kite was one of the few Conservative leaders to come out on top in the recent local elections.
Council elections are traditionally seen by voters as an opportunity to kick the government when it is down. And the electorate delivered a particularly loud raspberry in the direction of the Conservative party in May, which saw eight leaders in Kent swept aside by disgruntled voters.
Jeremy Kite saw his party taking 29 seats of the 41 up for grabs, the same as it did in 2019.