Thanet Parkway – Bad for North Thanet

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Thanet Parkway: A stonking great car park with a train station attached, first intended for passengers of Manston Airport and now intended to serve a sprawling belt of overpriced commuter houses built on the best quality* agricultural land in the country.

At first glance, there’s little to love. At second glance, there’s even less. The railway station, which will not be staffed, is planned by Kent County Council for just to the west of the village of Cliffsend on the Ashford – Ramsgate line.

Conspiracy theories proliferate, suggesting that the long-term plan is for the station to outright replace those of Broadstairs, Margate and Ramsgate completely – much as Westwood Cross has sucked the marrow out of their High Streets.

It’s certainly plausible, although there’s no evidence yet and as such I’ll stick to the less speculative objections for this scheme. Firstly, contrary to all planning policy, the station looks like it will significantly increase car traffic.

Improvements to Thanet’s existing stations would be a better option.

As the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) says in its excellent response to Kent County Council’s public consultation on the station: “Development sites are highlighted in the map but as none are adjacent to the proposed Parkway station, transport will be needed to and from the Parkway. This can be provided just as easily from existing stations such as Ramsgate or Sandwich.”

The CPRE adds: “It is claimed that ‘A parkway station will provide greater opportunity to access London via High Speed 1… However we question whether it would provide any greater access than is currently available, as people in Thanet & Dover have access to plenty of stations with the HS1 service; the Parkway could simply delay trains on the whole network.

“We are also concerned at the claim of: ‘Improved accessibility to job markets in London and wider Kent area’. The focus for Thanet should be the provision of local jobs rather than better access for commuting elsewhere. The climate change imperative requires less travel, not more.

“Furthermore we question the claimed benefit of: “Supporting housing and  employment development identified in the Draft Thanet Local Plan to 2031 Preferred  Option”, since the existing stations will provide at least equivalent benefit if the facilities at existing stations are improved as we suggest.”

Some other highlights:

[The station] could actually add to journey times for the majority of Thanet residents who live further away from Parkway than their current nearest station. The planned Ashford – Ramsgate improvements will yield a 6 minute time improvement, achieving a 30 minute Ashford – Ramsgate time.

But other figures show the Parkway station would then increase that by three minutes to 33 minutes – so the Parkway would halve the benefit of that time saving, to the detriment of all those using the existing stations. This seems disproportionate, as far more people use the existing stations than would ever use the Parkway.

Furthermore the additional 3 minute delay in Thanet then affects all stations between Thanet and final destination, such as London. The recent changes to timetables to enable HS1 trains to loop round East Kent have already prevented (for example) Whitstable passengers from being able to catch two HS1 trains an hour, because the classic trains only link with one HS1 an hour at Faversham – the same one that comes through Whitstable.

So, adding a station affects the whole network, and is not simply a small change to one or two other stations. We can see no evidence that this has been considered, let alone quantified. The effectiveness of the Parkway appears reduced further by the admission that travel time to the airport and business park zone is only ‘slightly less’.

Similarly the Business Case document agrees that there would only be ‘slight benefit’ to rail users coming from the west if the Parkway were to be developed. This is in contrast to the large numbers of passengers having their journeys made worse by the additional time on existing routes. The business case also recognises that the extra stop could deter use of the train by those going from Ramsgate to Canterbury.

KCC has won £10 million in funding for the station. That is out of £98 million of public funding for transport initiatives given to Kent and available as of this month.

I would dearly love to see some of that funding going on extensive improvements to the existing stations rather than some soulless, unstaffed station in with a giant car park attached that will slow trains down for everyone else.

Here is the CPRE’s response in full. It raises some very important questions that I echo.

* Grade 1 – Excellent quality agricultural land: Land with no or very minor limitations to agricultural use. A very wide range of agricultural and horticultural crops can be grown and commonly includes top fruit, soft fruit, salad crops and winter harvested vegetables. Yields are high and less variable than on land of lower quality. 

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