Published: 14:17, 02 September 2020
| Updated: 16:03, 03 September 2020
An embattled decade-long struggle against building a new railway station in east Kent has failed after councillors gave it the nod.
Thanet Parkway Station will be up and running in Cliffsend in the near future after the contentious £34m scheme was approved in the virtual chamber of Kent County Council's (KCC) planning committee earlier today.
Eight councillors voted in favour while five elected members said they could not support the project during an intense two-hour debate.
Despite cross-party opposition from Thanet county councillors, the majority of the committee said "there were no planning reasons to refuse" while also lauding the economic benefits for the area.
The 9.27 hectare greenfield site in Ramsgate will accommodate an unmanned station for up to six trains an hour, along with a 317-space car park and a new signalised junction to provide access for vehicles onto the A299 Hengist Way.
The high-speed rail link will run on two main routes from Thanet to London Charing Cross via Tonbridge and to London St Pancras via Ashford. It is expected to take 69 minutes to travel from Cliffsend to Stratford International.
Parkway becomes Thanet's eighth railway station alongside others such as Margate, Ramsgate and Broadstairs.
"We have lots of problems in Thanet but they have nothing to do with railway stations..."
Three local councillors voiced their strong opposition to Kent County Council's scheme - who will front up around £5m of the cost - during an emotionally charged debate this morning.
Ramsgate county councillor Karen Constantine (Lab) said the station would not bring about the "economic recovery legs" that Cliffsend residents needed.
Cllr Rosalind Binks (Con), who represents Broadstairs at county level, says she has been "hot and cold" over her views on Parkway since the idea was first mooted under the administration of former KCC leader Paul Carter (Con) in 2010.
Margate county councillor Barry Lewis (Lab) said he initially supported the proposal to ensure faster trains ran from Thanet to London, but said this was "fake news".
Journey times to London are cut by around three minutes on the HS1 link from Cliffsend but passengers from existing Thanet stations now face longer travel times.
He said: "We have lots of problems in Thanet but they have nothing to do with railway stations."
At the virtual public meeting, KCC officers strongly defended the proposal, saying that it was"integral" to the economic regeneration of East Kent.
Earlier this month, Parkway plans received a £12million boost from the government , which will come alongside £14m of investment from the South East Local Enterprise Partnership and about £2m from Thanet District Council.
It is also received overt public support from the chief executive of Discovery Park, a flagship business of 50,000 sq feet of office space and housing thousands of employees in Sandwich, Dover.
KCC's of planning, Sharon Thompson, said: "We are confident the business case is robust."
However, the KCC planning committee was divided over the controversial proposal.
Maidstone county councillor Ian Chittenden (Lib Dem) said he had "serious doubts" about the idea and complained the £34m of public funds to save three minutes of journey times to London was unwise, particularly in the Covid world.
But committee vice-chairman Dick Pascoe (Con) said he strongly supported the idea and said the criticism around the oversupply of train stations in Thanet did not bear fruit.
Citing his personal experience around a planning application he deemed comparable, Cllr Pascoe said: "A Chinese restaurant wanted to open in a Kent area where there were several Chinese restaurants and we did not say no."
Other critics, including Cllr Andrew Bowles (Con) and Cllr John Burden (Lab) said they worried about the lack of bus services at the station, air pollution effects of promoting more car travel and lack of security from an unmanned station.
Those who "strongly supported" the application - such as Cllr Matthew Balfour (Con) and Cllr Charlie Simkins (Con) - hailed the "strong business case" and said the London office culture could return post-Covid.
After the meeting, North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale, said: "We are now literally 'on track' for a new era of business and passenger prosperity in an area that has been crying out for investment in infrastructure.”
A final date for the station's planned construction and opening has yet to be decided.