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Tonbridge Station could be 'transport hub' with direct Gatwick service

Questions are being asked about when a long awaited direct train line to Gatwick will arrive.

Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council leader is demanding answers from the government after a competition to take over the south eastern franchise was cancelled, leaving Govia Thameslink Railway in charge until April 2020.

The franchise owners were supposed to be decided last year and with councils preparing for a large influx in housing, Nicolas Heslop is seeking an update on promised improvements such as Thameslink and better east-west rail connections on the Medway Valley Line.

Gatwick Airport
Gatwick Airport

In a letter to rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris, Cllr Heslop wrote: "The level of growth that local authorities in west Kent are having to accommodate is unprecedented, and the associated transport infrastructure challenges are also significant.

"Many of our proposed strategic sites are situated close to railway stations, in order to promote sustainable travel.

"Local growth combined with that in neighbouring authorities will significantly increase rail passenger demand, including at Tonbridge, Borough Green and Wrotham, West Malling and Barming stations in our borough."

Cllr Heslop wants Tonbridge station to become a "transport hub" connecting west Kent directly to Gatwick.

Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council leader Nicolas Heslop
Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council leader Nicolas Heslop

"Delays to rail franchising do not assist in developing the business case to address access to Gatwick."

At present there is no viable direct and regular public transport option from west Kent, connecting workers and passengers to the airport.

This is contrary to local and national aspirations for carbon reduction from road based transport, with Tonbridge and Malling having determined last month to aim to be carbon neutral by 2030.

"Thameslink services on the Maidstone East line have already been delayed, and I have no confidence that GTR will deliver this in December 2019.

"We are aware that many people have moved to communities such as Kings Hill, Leybourne Chase and Peters Village because of the promised rail services, which have yet to be delivered.

"We urgently ask for clear direction regarding the future of the south eastern franchise, to provide certainty for investment by the future franchisee."

A Department for Transport statement said it cancelled the decision following "significant concerns that continuing the competition process would lead to additional costs incurred to the taxpayer, with no certainty that this would deliver envisaged benefits for passengers in a timely fashion."

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