Not quite pork-barrel politics but some goodies from the sweetie jar come Thanet's way

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Sunday, March 15 2015

It ought not to be a surprise that the news of a £12m investment in High Speed 1 services to and from Thanet triggered a row over whether the government was playing pork barrel politics.

In about ten days time, the government would have been prevented from issuing  the news under what are known as purdah rules. This prevents government and councils from making announcements that might be construed as favouring particular parties.


With news of an imminent announcement buzzing around last week, UKIP leader Nigel Farage cheekily pre-empted the official news by declaring it unofficially, tweeting: "Great news which would never have happened if I weren't the candidate there!" He went on to claim that it was evidence of what UKIP could do to bring attention to an area "even before taking office."

His point was to suggest that the Conservatives are searching around for good news to spread because they are on the back foot in Thanet, where he is standing. Of course, the Conservatives denied any such thing, with the departing South Thanet MP Laura Sandys describing his intervention as unbelievably arrogrant.

But UKIP has a point, however irritating others may find it.

This is not the first announcement in recent weeks that could be construed as designed to benefit the Conservatives.

Notably, there was the news that the government was to appoint an independent consultant to review the decision by the Labour-controlled council not to pursue a CPO for Manston. This review will conveniently not report back before the election.

Some of the gloss came off this a touch this week with a highly critical report by the transport select committee, which took the Conservative-controlled Kent County Council and in particular its leader Paul Carter to task over its failings in helping Thanet council.

A gift to opposition parties who are probably rushing to the printers to get new election leaflets published.

Then there is the question of exactly what kind of boost the £12m investment will provide and whether it is actually new. The press release rather hid the major downside of the announcement, namley that the scheduled upgrade of the line won't be completed until 2019 - a four years away.

As to the journey times, the average reduction will be ten minutes off. Not bad but again, the press release refers to the "potential" for a reduction rather than a guaranteed one.

On the question of how genuinely new this all is, the waters are rather muddy.

Network Rail confirmed a year ago that it was working towards an upgrade on the HS1 line to bring journey times down to about an hour from Thanet to London at a cost of £10m. If this was separate from this week's announcement, then the PR people missed a trick by overlooking the fact that it could be a £22m investment.

The conclusion seems to be that they are one and the same.


Nigel Farage has admitted that he may not win his bid to become the MP for Thanet South. 

In a book serialised by The Daily Telegraph, he concedes he is facing a real battle and that if he fails it "would be curtains for me."

In one sense, this could be seen as a little defeatist and may have the effect of giving his opponents more impetus. On the other hand, this kind of candour does stand out from the earnestly positive remarks many candidates are choosing to post about their campaigns.

Twitter is full of would-be MPs posting update of their activity on the ground, usually accompanied by comments such as "brilliant day campaiging in x [insert name of constituency] and a great reaction on the doorstep."

Oh, and a deadly dull picture of activists holding leaflets, flags and banners.

Nevertheless, it is a risk for any politician to acknowledge they may lose. 



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Categories: Nostalgia | Tourism | Trains | Transport

My First Post, start off with a bang

by Time out with Tony, by Tony Scott Thursday, June 13 2013

Hello blog viewers, this is my first blog. For that reason I have decided to release what I hate most before I start in the blogosphere. I live in a Kentish Town and the one thing that buggers me the most about living there is the transport system. 

Now Don't get me wrong it's all fine and dandy at all times of the day running clear services, apart from at school times. I dread having to stand in the freezing cold of a bus stop while young girls standing around me light up cigarettes as and when they please, coughing out black smoke. The depressing atmosphere of this place is also stereotyped by a billboard that has gone beyond its call of duty and is in disrepair.

And then getting the bus itself is a struggle. The masses of people my age that have to get to school along this route is immense, this leads to overcrowding. The council of course only have the bare minimum of buses needed,  which means that I get to enjoy the sheer pleasure of being crowded in with, well how to put it, people beyond my liking.

The hilarity of it is that many smaller bus companies (not arriva) put on one-day services to please the inspector of the bus companies anually that means that they can pass of as being a good company, when really they have to battle with overcrowding every day. It's madness.

Of course it's classic that on a busy school time service, Mrs Young Mum has to make an appearance and shout at other people on board as if we are animals, as she barges her way through the crowd with no respect for anyone. Goddamit why can't they understand that they can take transport at different times?

The bus drivers are characters. You start to get a know of the nice, friendly drivers; and the resentful, child hating ones. Of course because they have protection they think they can dish hate to people and be outright rude. It is iust unbearable

In short, you can see my resent for transport, which I believe is a common thing. I hope you enjoy more of what I have to offer. Goodbye.

Categories: Arriva | Environment | Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council | Transport

HS2 - forget the pain, think of the gain

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Friday, January 6 2012

Hooray for the business people who have called for the HS2 to go ahead.

At long last, a real-world case is made for a project that would - albeit belatedly - put the UK on the right track in the new era of international high-speed rail travel.

We know all too well in Kent about the disruption and damage that construction causes. It was horrible while it lasted. There were ugly scars on the landscape.

But engineers did a great job. The wounds have healed. For all the protests about HS1 many years ago - similar to those we hear along the proposed HS2 - Kent now has a superb high-speed service, even though some of the advantages have come at the expense of old-style train performance.

Okay, fares are high but increased prosperity brings more wealth.

High-speed rail is slowly transforming the economy, with house prices leaping in towns like Ashford, Gravesend and Folkestone which are well plugged into the service.

It’s not just about people travelling to London, it also encourages people to commute into Kent, adding to the county’s skill base.

The same scenario will apply to Thanet when Manston, for example, has a Parkway station and journey times to London fall to an hour.

As for the feared landscape damage, few people now complain about the environmental impact of high-speed trains. It now blends into the landscape.

Initial Kent protests succeeded, forcing the then Government to abandon the initial route through South Darenth in favour of a northerly route. But thank goodness the principle of high-speed to the Continent was retained.

No doubt there were protests from residents between Settle and Carlisle about a “damaging” new line in Victorian times, but it is now cherished as a scenic and engineering wonder.

HS2 to Birmingham and beyond promises economic growth on the back of faster journey times.  It should help bridge the widening North-South divide.

The Chilterns are a precious asset but skilful - and no expense spared - engineering can mitigate the impact.

The French have led the way on Les Grands Projets while the UK is usually late into the big idea, frightened off by cost or public protest.

HS2 is a bold initiative that should be welcomed. OK, there will be pain, and plenty of fury from affected locals. But as we have found in Kent, both are temporary. The longer-term economic gain for the UK will be immense – and it should not be just business people who can see this light at the end of the tunnel.

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Categories: HS-1 | Regeneration | Thames Gateway | Transport

We need a Manston Express!

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Wednesday, December 28 2011

Flybe’s decision to pull out of Manston is another blow to the airport, especially disappointing at the turn of the year.

However attractive we in Kent think Manston is, it seems that not enough people agree.

Flybe’s bold experiment to run flights to Edinburgh, Manchester and Belfast was welcomed, but once again it ends in disappointment. The Manchester service was pulled some time ago, and the Belfast operation was grounded at the end of the summer.

Edinburgh has been popular with leisure flyers, students, servicemen and women, and some business folk. But the lack of a day round trip made it inconvenient for business.

It was a similar disappointment a few years ago when the Irish-based airline EUjet went belly-up after stretching itself over too many services.

So despite the smiles on the ebullient airport CEO Charles Buchanan, Manston has a problem with scheduled passenger services. What message does Flybe's decision send to other would-be operators?

Manston has no difficulty with freight - including horses through its new equine centre - and charter flights to holiday places in the summer do pretty well. Car parking is a breeze. Two minutes after unloading the boot, you are in the terminal.

Yet there just doesn’t seem to be a big enough market for scheduled services. Why is this? OK, the downturn has not helped but there must surely be something more fundamental than that.

One factor is constrained night-time flying. Thanet council should back the airport's modest demands, despite opposition from some residents. It would, after all, be good for jobs and local people desperately need them.

Manston ought to be the solution to over-crowding at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. But the Kent terminal with one of the longest runways in the UK has been largely overlooked in official reports, even though senior Kent people are always talking up its credentials.

Manston’s disadvantage is that it’s more than 60 miles from London. At the eastern end of the UK, It is not surrounded by chimney pots.  But remote airports are not seen as a disadvantage by the likes of Ryanair and EasyJet who bus people miles from a cheap out-of-town terminal.

Roads like the Thanet Way are pretty good but potential customers from South East London probably think they are worse than they are.

So make it easy.  A Manston Parkway station and dedicated high-speed railway –a “Manston Express?” – would make a huge difference. The Regional Growth Fund allocated some welcome cash for a track upgrade. For a fraction of the cost of a Boris Island or Foster's Grain proposal, upgraded links would transform Manston's image. It would be great to see politicians "getting it" in 2012.

But the sad truth at the moment is that investors - and other scheduled operators - will be wary of committing to a terminal that keeps suffering setbacks.


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Categories: Airport | Transport

Chaos on the M20 - Kent is a laughing stock

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Tuesday, June 14 2011

Kent was made to look an embarrassing laughing stock by the M20 chaos last weekend.

Queues tailing back from Junction 8 halfway to Ashford plunged innocent travellers, many from the Continent, into a four-hour crawl through Maidstone.

What should have been a simple 20-minute run well away from the county town became a nightmare. Drivers and passengers had to get out of their cars to find relief from the stress of going nowhere.

This was travel misery on a grand scale and surely it could have been better managed. The Highways Agency was in charge and failed to properly foresee the chaos that would ensue.

Why was no contraflow system? Why was there no diversion along the A20.

It was hard to see any signs indicating trouble ahead in the Ashford area, and while that made the A20 thankfully relatively empty - good for local drivers and residents - it did nothing to ease the pain of the cars, trucks, coaches and vans stuck in gridlock.

Cricket matches were cancelled because teams could not get through until several hours after the scheduled start time.

Numerous appointments were missed. No doubt many people felt ill. And our overseas visitors must have thought they had arrived in a country that would shame the Third World.

We know essential work has to be carried out. But surely it can be planned better. Apparently, the Highways Agency had wanted to do the work over one weekend and two working days but Kent County Council thankfully persuaded officials to change their mind.

Blocking the slip road at J8 during weekdays is already causing enough chaos for residents in Bearsted, with tailbacks a regular feature of the village and Ashford Road. But the complete closure was something else. Road work planning must be done better.

The M20 is a strategic gateway from mainland Europe to Kent and the rest of the UK. The Highways Agency must sharpen up its act. By way of compensation, how about the Government agreeing to Kent collecting a tax on every heavy vehicle driving through the county?

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Categories: Business | Highways Agency | Transport

Stripping Southeastern of its franchise is a knee-jerk reaction

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Thursday, January 20 2011

MPs are on the wrong track to call for Southeastern to be stripped of its franchise.

It’s a kneejerk, populist and opportunistic response to the operator’s less than inspiring performance during the bad weather, and the inflation-busting New Year fare hike.

That’s not to ignore the nightmare for commuters in the snow. They had a horrible time. Some were trapped for hours on end, and Southeastern’s communications system, although better than a year ago, still left many travellers unaware of what was happening.

Southeastern does not deserve to be pilloried for a situation that was largely out of its control. It is stuck with an unsuitable third rail system that it would love to replace if billions of pounds were available. Network Rail looks after the track and any failure to clear snow is down to them.

The infrastructure owner did itself no favours by taking de-icing trains out of service just before the big freeze arrived. But at least it invested in heating strips in several Kent blackspots which appeared to help a little in the second snowfall. Southeastern’s information system was not great, especially at stations, but its website bulletins were unusally up-to-date.

The National Rail Inquiries site often took the wrong data. Given the horrendous conditions that affected rail services across the rest of Europe and the limitations of third rail, they did not do too badly. As for fare hikes, blame the Government which is progressively slashing subsidy.

The new coalition government raised the fare cap. Southeastern scored an own goal by failing to separate punctuality rates of high-speed from those of the traditional service.

By announcing a level fractionally above the 82 per cent compensation threshold, thanks to high-speed performance, they looked mean. It would have been good PR, if less good for the bottom line, to have split the two and awarded compensation to hard-pressed customers on traditional services.

But let’s not forget what Southeastern has achieved. Remember Connex and the nightmare it inflicted on passengers? Southeastern has improved the service no end. Before the snow, punctuality rates were pretty good. Its introduction of the superb high-speed service has been exemplary.

It plays a key role in the Kentish economy and takes an interest in its fortunes through sponsorship and community involvement. It will be crucial in the efficient transportation of people to and from the Olympic site at Stratford. Why risk a generally improving service by getting rid of an operator that is more often right than wrong?

There are many worse systems than Southeastern. Yes, there are lessons for Southeastern to learn, but let’s praise them for what they have achieved, and remember that many of the problems cited by MPs and others were not of their making.

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Categories: Business | Southeastern | Trains | Transport

Boris Island Part 2: Why the Thames Estuary option will be pursued

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Tuesday, January 18 2011

The most telling phrase in the report published today about the Mayor of London's case for increasing aviation capacity was the one that talked about the need for "a brand new airport."

Not extending an existing airport but a brand new one. Which suggests to me that when Boris comes to issuing a report later on this year identifying particular locations as part two of his assessment, the Thames Estuary will be the number one favourite.

We were told several times - rather unconvincingly - that the Mayor and Transport for London were open to all suggestions although when pressed about whether that included extending Heathrow - which Boris and the coalition have ruled out - there was a bit of subtle manouevering to indicate that this, ahem, wouldn't be among the options.

Indeed, the only specific place mentioned in the Mayor's 70-page report is the Thames Estuary - and in a classic piece of under-statement, the report notes that it "will require sustained political determination to deliver such an airport."

You can say that again. But no-one should under-estimate the seriousness with which Boris is taking this. He made a compelling case on economic grounds, pointing out that together London airports can muster just five daily flights to China - half the number from Paris and Frankfurt.

He also pointed out that David Cameron's plans for greater use of existing regional airports would only absorb about 10 per cent of the extra capacity expected to be generated at Heathrow as the number of passengers increases from 240m to 460m over the next 20 years.

Boris reignites row over airport plan for Kent>>>

So, he ploughs on in the face of implacable opposition from council chiefs and most MPs. But one thing that did strike me at today's seminar was that many businesses actually seem quite keen on the idea and believe that there has been a pretty one-sided debate so far.

As to ManstonDaniel Moylan, vice chairman of Transport for London, was fairly dismissive - revealing that it would only work if it became a four runway hub of the sort Boris wants. Intriguingly, this proposal was put to KCC leader Paul Carter but he demurred at the suggestion.

So, Boris may not be terribly popular down here but seems remarkably unperturbed. You could even say he's rather relishing the challenge.

Mind you, it was a shame he didn't stick around to answer any journalists' questions.

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Categories: Politics | Thames Gateway | Transport

Boris island: why the Mayor won't say no

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Monday, January 17 2011

It has been roundly denounced and at a cost of £40bn is regarded as pie in the sky.

But London Mayor Boris Johnson just won't let go of his idea to build an off-shore airport off the north Kent coast (where, it is worth mentioning, he has no planning jurisdiction).

The latest wheeze for Boris Island - by the independent panel he commissioned to examine options for the Thames Estuary - is that flood defence islands needed to withstand flood surges could double up as runways.

Flood islands could double as runways, says Mayor's expert panel>>

It sounds creative but I think there is a wider point here: the panel known as the Thames Estuary Steering Group is signalling subtly that it would like to keep the idea of Boris Island alive despite the hostility to it here.

This will no doubt please Boris, who is expected to underline his own personal support for further exploration of the scheme at a seminar tomorrow. A report is due to be published making the case for increased airport capacity in London and the south east that should be "configured in a hub airport".

The Mayor is using the government's own review of aviation capacity to keep up momentum in the debate and according to City Hall will be outlining the strong economic case for alternatives to expanding Heathrow.

It won't go down well in Kent and both KCC and Medway councils are poised to reaffirm their opposition, as no doubt, will many of the county's MPs.




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Categories: Politics | Thames Gateway | Transport

What High Speed have done for us

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Wednesday, December 22 2010

Protests about the proposed route of High Speed 2 from London to the Midlands and the North will provoke hollow laughter in Kent. I remember reporting on marches from South Darenth and Sutton-at-Hone that demonstrated fierce opposition to the initial route.

There was the admission that a map had been drawn up on an official’s dining room table using out of date information and putting the route through a new housing estate near Blue Bell Hill, Chatham. When a Mid Kent Parkway station was proposed between Medway and Maidstone, there was an outcry that the “green lung” would be removed and prompt the creation of a “Medstone” or “Maidway” conurbation.

There was dismay with the proposal to put the link down the pretty Nashenden Valley. When construction started, there was outrage over the “scar on the landscape.”

I can hardly remember a good thing being said about the proposed railway, wherever it went. Maidstone council bowed to this anti-sentiment and voted not to have anything to do with what eventually became HS1 And yet, and yet...

Taking a lesson from the French city of Lille, which battled for the TGV line to go through its heart, Ashford council fought tooth and nail to have the service re-routed through the centre of the town. Look what that decision has done to the prosperity and potential of the town.

Commuter journeys have been transformed. Look at the potential for regeneration in Dover, Margate and Folkestone from the presence of what is a brilliant service on state-of-the-art Hitachi trains. Look at the great advertisement for the county. Kent, a railway back-marker since the 1800s, is no longer on the wrong side of the tracks.

While third-rail trains were stuck in the snow, HS1 kept on rolling. More than seven million passengers took HS1 in its first year and I bet that figure will be a lot higher next year. It is a powerful economic driver for the county, raises our game and is proving a powerful incentive for firms to move to the county.

Just as 19th century steam trains and track came to blend into the countryside, with pressure groups lobbying to preserve threatened lines, so the railway that sparked so much protest in Mid and North West Kent is now part of our landscape. Nothing much to protest about now. The engineers did a great job.

Maidstone is left on the sidelines, now pleading for a high-speed station that was once there for the taking. Prosperity is slowly shifting to Ashford and will in time flow to Dover, Margate and Folkestone. House prices will rise disproportionately in towns with good access to the trains. A Manston Parkway station is on the cards.

HS2 protesters should look to the Kent experience and see that while they should ensure the route is tweaked here and there, and tunnelled under beautiful places, there is so much to gain from high-speed rail in terms of greener travel and greater convenience in a modern world. Things we fear in advance often come to be loved. In a 100 years’ time, HS2 and HS1 will be celebrated as much as the steam railways of another era.

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Categories: Business | Trains | Transport

Let’s face it, we don’t do snow

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Tuesday, December 21 2010

Let’s face it, we don’t do snow. While railway systems and airports in cold places worldwide can cope, we are just not geared up for the white stuff.

It is costing billions in lost business and productivity, not to mention the cost to millions of people. Friends in Canada report that snow there is umpteen feet deep, but all transport systems are working normally. There has to be sympathy for the thousands of people stranded at airports and St Pancras International, many of them from overseas.

The message they are getting from the snow debacle is that we are a third-rate country who cannot get the world’s busiest airport back in action. Even if we don’t have enough hardware to clear the stuff, at least we could try to excel at communications and public relations.

But the stranded passengers have been badly let down by the absence of information. It’s a poor show, and a classic case study for PR professionals. They should have been working alongside the operations people to keep people informed. People accept that nature happens, but when they are not told anything, they do not know what decisions to make. They need reassurance and information is one way of doing it. Give Southeastern its due, it seems to have heeded the information gaps of January and early December to up its game.

Its website has been pretty much up-to-date, with station signage and announcements better than before. And it actually kept a lot of trains running. It is natural to blame the Government for every woe, but without adequate preparation there’s not a lot it can do.

The previous administration would have been no different. It did not properly prepare for lots of snow, and the present lot have continued that policy. However, Transport Secretary Philip Hammond needs to act quickly to reassure his boss and the public that he is in charge.

He has generally made a good start, and actually seems to know about transport, but he could come a cropper if he fouls up the snow issue. I know that snow has been rare in recent years, and that encouraged complacency. But the lessons of January and December suggest we may be in for a lot more of it.

Even if we are not, it is important politically to invest substantial sums in technology. Even more important to devise a rapid response Snow Action Plan that can be ready to implement every time. It needs to involve ministers, airport, airline, rail and road chiefs to ensure that we are never caught in such an embarrassing position again.

It will cost a lot of money - not something the Coalition wants to contemplate - the technology may not be needed very often, but the UK has to be seen to demonstrate that it is preparing for a next time. Otherwise it will never live down a battered reputation for crisis management. It really is time we did snow and stopped all this slipping and sliding that tells the world that we are not up to the job.

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Categories: Business | snow | Trains | Transport

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