Cash Splash for Rail Dash?
Hastings and Rye MP Sally-Ann Hart used two separate sessions of Parliament last week to call for national funding to upgrade the Marshlink rail line between Hastings and Ashford.
Last Tuesday, describing the existing road and rail infrastructure serving her constituency as “some of the most antiquated” in the country, she asked the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Jesse Norman, to explain what steps are being taken to make funding available for extension of the high speed HS1 service through from Ashford to Hastings.
Two days later she raised an almost identical question of the Minister of State for Transport, Andrew Stephenson, this time making an explicit reference to the Prime Minister’s ‘levelling up’ programme.
She said: “Investing in improved transport infrastructure is well recognised by my hon. Friend as a necessity for turbocharging our economy and levelling up. If we are serious about levelling up left-behind communities, does my hon. Friend not agree that HS1, as promised by previous Ministers, now needs to be delivered? What discussions has he had with the Treasury to ensure that funding will be available to finance such a vital project?”
In response, both government ministers ducked the funding question, Mr Norman referring merely to a “strategic outline business case for the Kent and East Sussex coastal connectivity scheme”, that includes proposals being developed by Network Rail to extend HS1 services from Ashford to Rye, and said it was due to be submitted to the Department for Transport in April 2021 for its review. Mr Stephenson responded likewise.
But the way Mrs Hart put her questions may be rather more significant than these non-committal responses. As Jake Jooshandeh explains in HIP article, Levelling Up Fund offer, MPs have been given key powers to influence the allocation of Levelling Up Funds to local authority areas in their respective constituencies. She and her neighbour MP Huw Merriman, who represents Bexhill and Battle and has also argued in the past for HS1 connections to be extended through to Bexhill, may see the offers to Hastings and Rother – up to £50m each if spent on local transport projects – as an opportunity not to be missed. Put together, those sums could go a long way towards meeting the cost of the HS1 extension project. And Mrs Hart might then find it easier to loosen Treasury purse-strings for a top-up rather than begging for full funding.
It remains to be seen, however, whether Hastings Borough Council will share Mrs Hart’s priorities – equally Rother District Council, should Mr Merriman join her bandwagon.
• For further background and analysis of the Levelling Up
Fund offer, click here.
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