Published: 14:04, 15 April 2019
| Updated: 14:19, 15 April 2019
A new commuter railway station is a step closer after business leaders agreed a funding package worth nearly £28 million for the project.
Thanet Parkway is proposed to be built at Cliffsend near Manston Airport and transport chiefs say the new station will slash journey times to London to just one hour.
Business leaders say the better connections will bring more investment into the district and increase employment.
It means a planning application can now be developed, which will be presented to planning committee members at Kent County Council (KCC) "in due course", the council says.
The controversial new station - on the Ramsgate to Ashford International line - has been branded "a waste of money" by critics.
In August, KCC's bid for £8.7m was turned down by the Department for Transport, with the government highlighting concerns about cost and viability.
Government money worth £14m from the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP) will provide the bulk of the funding with Thanet District Council spending £2m, KCC contributing up to £10.95m and the East Kent Spatial Development Company putting in £700,000.
Consultants working for SELEP suggested delaying a decision until more information is available about train capacity and a full cost of the project.
Edmund Cassidy, one of the consultants, said: “The crowding impacts have not been considered.
“Given the fact this railway line is already at a high level of capacity and already feels some congestion during the peak mornings and evenings, we feel this analysis would improve the robustness of the business case.”
But KCC leader Cllr Paul Carter (Con) – a member of SELEP’s accountability board – responded robustly by saying a delay is not necessary, telling colleagues the authority would “take the risk on any overspend”.
He added: “KCC has already spent over £1 million. We’re acquiring the site in the next two to three weeks, which will cost nearly another £1 million.
The group's accountability board met on Friday to agree the funding deal adding it will only release the funding if the budget is not more than £27.7m when a full design is proposed.
Members also agreed to only release the cash once the remaining funding is secured.
Christian Brodie, chair of SELEP, said: “East Kent suffers from higher levels of deprivation when compared with South East England as a whole, with Thanet being ranked as the most deprived local authority in the county.
“Poor accessibility is a key factor that has discouraged major employers from locating in the area, which has served to undermine the pace of regeneration.
“The improved transport links a new Thanet Parkway station will bring will make the area more attractive to employers and will help attract a more highly skilled workforce, in turn supporting the regeneration of the area.”
The new station is said to help support additional planned housing in the area to "attract skilled workers" and bring in 400-800 jobs in the 30 years after the station opens.
A report presented to members says Thanet Parkway will "provide better links" with High Speed services to St Pancras and improve links to Canterbury and Ashford.
Transport bosses in Westminster will be urged to order more Javelin high-speed trains to deal with the demand for the service in Kent and Medway and taking population growth into account.
Cllr Carter added: “I don’t see why we should be exposed to undue risk because there aren’t enough high-speed trains across Kent into St Pancras.
“It’s time we ask the Department for Transport to wake up and order more trains quickly for the gateway.”
A spokesman for KCC says a planning application will go before the planning committee at KCC in due course.
They added: “KCC welcomes SELEP's further endorsement of this vital infrastructure project.
"Supporting the economic growth of East Kent is a priority for the county council and this funding will help deliver that growth."