Cost. The original, 2014, cost estimate for Ramsgate Parkway Station was £11.2million. These costs were reviewed again in April 2016 and estimated to be £23million. That’s a staggering 109% increase in less than 2 years. But it’s almost certain that the final construction costs will be much higher. Taking into account inflation, Brexit-related cost increases, and any changes to the construction plans resulting from the second round of public consultation, my guess is that the actual cost of building Ramsgate Parkway station will be approaching £30million. That’s a massive 3 times the original estimate!
So where’s the money coming from? Well £10million has already been allocated by the Government from its Local Growth Fund scheme and according to documents presented to the Kent and Medway Economic Partnership in January 2017 a bid has been submitted to Network Rail’s New Station Fund for £8.77million. If the bid is successful then almost £19 million will have been raised towards the 2016 estimate of £23million - that’s a shortfall of £4million – but in reality the shortfall is more likely to be £6-8million, which will probably have to be paid for by Thanet and Kent County Council tax payers. Is it any wonder that the South East Local Economic Partnership (SELEP) , which is overseeing the development of, and manging the fundraising for, Ramsgate Parkway Station, has flagged this project as being high risk because of funding uncertainty.
Value for money. The original purpose of Ramsgate Parkway station was to service Manston Airport. When it became clear that Manston Airport was unlikely to re-open, the justification for building the station suddenly shifted. Planners began to argue that Parkway would help to support the growth and development of Discovery Park, Manston Business Park and the proposed Stone Hill Park which is to be located on the former airport site. This is utter nonsense. The overwhelming majority of people working at, or visiting, Discovery Park and Manston Business Park are local to East Kent and travel to the sites by car using the new dual carriageway system not the train. I’m certain that exactly the same situation will prevail at Stone Hill Park when/ if it is built and becomes operational.
The other justification for building Parkway station is supposedly to relieve the stress being placed on Ramsgate station by the increase in passenger numbers following the introduction of HS1, and to tackle the difficulties faced by commuters wishing to park near the station. Once again this is nonsense. Rather than spending somewhere in the region of £30million to create a new station with a massive 350 space car park, surely KCC, it’s planners and consultants, would have saved a small fortune by looking at local solutions to manage and reduce pressures on Ramsgate station instead. There is plenty of spare land near Ramsgate station which could be used to provide more car parking such as the disused railway sidings and nearby former industrial land which is not being used. Some of the commercial and industrial premises located near to the station could also be compulsorily purchased by KCC and the businesses relocated elsewhere to create new parking capacity for the capacity for the station. Investing in improved bus services to and from the station and developing safe cycling routes and secure cycle storage facilities would actually reduce the need for parking spaces at Ramsgate station.
Last but not least is the fact that that Ramsgate Parkway station makes no contribution towards reducing the journey time from Thanet’s railway stations to Canterbury, Ashford and London. In fact it actually makes journey time longer. Surely, from an economic regeneration point of view, it would be much more sensible to invest £30million into improving tracks, signalling, etc to cut the journey time from Ramsgate to London to one hour or less, instead of spending it on station which adds no, or little, value to Thanet and its residents. Even the SELEP which is overseeing the development of, and managing the fundraising for, Ramsgate Parkway Station has its doubts about whether this project generates value for money and has categorised the project as high risk because of the “current funding gap, value for money uncertainty, key risk issues currently unresolved”
Environmental issues. It’s not just the spiralling costs and the doubtful value for money which has led me to oppose Ramsgate Parkway station, but the massive environmental damage it will cause as well. The Kent branch of the Campaign to Protect to Rural England (CPRE) says that “this station will be a significant generator of car journeys as it encourages out-commuting”. These additional car journeys will add to the air pollution in and around Thanet and Ramsgate which is rapidly becoming a serious threat to public health and is the cause of tens of thousands premature deaths every year.The other, equally important threat to the environment is the loss of a large (2 hectare) area of previously undeveloped farmland, which will be concreted over to make way for the station.
But the loss of greenfield land will not be restricted to the station site itself. The prospect of new station on the HS1 line to London will unboundedly attract greedy property developers from far wide hoping to make huge profits by building houses on the open land surrounding the station. Sadly this process is already beginning. According to Thanet Council planning records 4 planning applications have been verified in the past 12 months, one of which has already been approved, to build a total of 157 new houses in and around Cliffsend. If planning permission for the station is granted then I fear that we will see many more planning applications. In fact the SELEP estimates that one of ancillary “benefits” of building Ramsgate Parkway station would be the building of 800 new houses in the vicinity of the station and Cliffsend. There is no doubt in my mind that granting planning permission for Ramsgate Parkway station would be the beginning of the end for Cliffsend. It would almost certainly become absorbed into Ramsgate’s rapidly expanding urban conurbation, losing its separate and historic identity as a village. And in the process valuable and irreplaceable top grade agricultural land will be lost forever, along with the habitats and protection this land offers to our wildlife.
Politics. Ramsgate Parkway station is a Kent County Council project. I am unware of Ramsgate’s two UKIP Kent Councillors, Trevor Shonk and Martin Heale, having made any public statements about this costly and controversial development in their own backyard. They said nothing during the first 2015 public consultation and 2 years later during the second 2017 consultation they have said nothing again. Considering that plans for the station were widely opposed in 2014 and appear to be strongly opposed again, surely Ramsgate’s KCC councillors should be playing an active and vociferous role in supporting their constituents in stopping this damaging scheme getting off the ground. Sadly, I think the truth is that UKIP actually supports Ramsgate Parkway station and is looking forward to the 800 new houses it will cause to be built in and around Cliffsend and the £2 million or so in extra council tax payments they will generate each year for the cash-strapped Thanet Council.
But UKIP doesn’t stand alone in supporting Parkway station and turning their backs on the plight of Cliffsend and its residents. Tory KCC candidates Marc Rattigan and Paul Messenger have remained silent on Ramsgate Parkway making no statements in the media about this important issue. Labour candidates Karen Constantine and Raushan Ara have also been silent. Not surprisingly when you consider that Thanet Labour Party executed a massive U-turn, from opposing the station on environmental grounds to supporting it in 2014. Here’s the link to an article I wrote at the time. http://thanetgreencouncillor.blogspot.co.uk/2015_01_01_archive.html
I’m deeply saddened that UKIP, the Tories and Labour all appear to be supporting the Ramsgate Parkway Station and are arrogantly unconcerned about the massive waste of public money on a station that serves no useful purpose; a station that most people don’t want; and a station which will cause considerable and significant harm to Thanet’s environment and the village of Cliffsend. Hopefully a KCC election candidate might come forward who will fight this scheme and put the wishes of residents and the protection of our environment before misguided party loyalty.