Restoring Uckfield’s rail link with Lewes and the South Coast has taken a significant step forward.
The scheme was put forward under the Government’s Restoring Your Railway project and has passed the first tests.
The BML2 (Brighton Main Line 2) announced that a formal application, sponsored by Lewes MP, Maria Caulfield, had been “wholly successful” and proceeds to the next stage of the process.
In a press release, BML2 said a letter from Chris Heaton-Harris, the Minister of State for Transport, noted the scheme had “generated a high level interest”.
The Transport Minister also said: “We are ready to work with you [MPs and BML2] on how best to take this project to the next stage and invite you to discuss the next steps with officials.”
It is only the Sussex and Kent phases of the overall BML2 scheme that are part of the current application.
The London phase is in abeyance for the time being due to its magnitude, final design and substantial cost, for which the private sector has expressed serious interest.
A spokesperson for BML2 said: “Because our submission chiefly comprises reinstating short sections of solidly protected closed rail links (together with a new fast section linking into the City of Brighton and Hove) there are quick gains.
“All of it is straightforward, uncomplicated basic engineering, as chiefly demonstrated by Network Rail’s engineering study in 2008.
“It is also affordable at around £800m and well within the parameters of the £48bn fund the government has proposed to invest towards a carbon-neutral future.”
A stumbling block which has felled other re-opening schemes – the benefit cost ratio (BCR) – is no longer a deal breaker.
Twelve years ago, in 2008, consultants commissioned to investigate reopening just one section – solely between Lewes and Uckfield and nothing more – deduced a poor business case, primarily because the bigger picture was not considered.
Government guidelines now say the assessment framework does not rely only on benefit cost ratios.
Strong strategic cases with low BCRs can progress.
The BML2 spokesperson said: “Well, that’s more like it – at last we have more erudite thinking in transport planning.
“This concurs with our belief over many years that the Uckfield, or Wealden, line has the indisputable capacity to connect today’s large and expanding towns to major conurbations and key regional centres.
“Six months ago Maria Caulfield told us that assuming we were successful in our bid, then the Department for Transport would do everything to assist us in developing the project.
“This has proved to be true.
“There is now a genuine political impetus behind BML2 and other strategic links across the country which will markedly improve connectivity.
“Two lost main lines will be brought back into operation, along with truly useful regional connections for Sussex, Kent and Surrey.
“New services, new destinations and new opportunities for growth and prosperity with a better, greener way of getting from A to B is now at the top of the government’s transport agenda.”