WALTER CRONXITE, our political editor, reports on an election commitment which could scare off voters in London’s most marginal seat
When it was officially launched this morning the Labour Party election manifesto, much trailed through leaks last week, when formally published this morning, contained a nasty shock for Croydon voters.
Labour has promised that they “will build a new Brighton Main Line for the south-east”.
It is a half-sentence in a 128-page document, but it is open to multiple interpretations, not least that it is intended to revive the Brighton Main Line 2 scheme which would need to bulldoze through homes and businesses, parkland and even the much-admired tram network.
Like most other large infrastructure projects, BML2 has the potential to divide opinion. Previously backed by Gideon Osborne when he was Chancellor, Croydon voters were glad to see the back of BML2 when the idea fizzled out for lack of support.
The proposal in Labour’s manifesto is sure to be seized upon by Gavin Barwell and the Conservatives fighting to hold Croydon Central from Labour. The LibDems in Croydon South and Barwell have both previously spoken out against BML2.
Indeed, the mention in the manifesto of the project will have come as a bit of a surprise for the Labour Party in Croydon, as they’ve previously opposed BML2, too.
It’s not as if there wasn’t some local knowledge involved in the drafting of Labour’s manifesto: Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s policy chief is Andrew Fisher, a Croydon resident who it is said is one of the chief authors of the 2017 manifesto.
BML2 aims to open a new rail corridor from Brighton to Lewisham and Canary Wharf via something somewhat grandiosely called “the Croydon Gateway”, a super station at South Croydon covering for Sanderstead, Purley Oaks and South Croydon stations and acting as a key interchange between the existing London to Brighton mainline BML2, and likely to be similar in size to East Croydon.
The Selsdon railway line would be re-opened and the tram line from Lloyd Park to Addiscombe would be moved to make way for BML2.
BML2 proponents feel that the damage is worth it in (re-)opening routes that would relieve an overstressed Brighton line.
Land needed for the scheme might be taken from the Carlton Road business estate, South Croydon’s allotments and parts of Park Hill, the Whitgift Estate, Addiscombe, Ashburton and Woodside. A government report on the scheme has spoken of “Significant land alongside the existing railway would be required in Croydon, which is a rapidly developing area”.
As a minister, Barwell has fought against the scheme, and has instead favoured investment in improving capacity on the existing mainline. In March, Barwell said, “…The study also examines the case for reinstating formerly closed rail lines (such as the line between Lewes and Uckfield, closed in 1969) and building new links including the ‘BML2’ concept, which would see a largely new line between the Sussex Coast and central London.
“This proposal would be highly detrimental to Croydon. The line would run up the tram track from near Lloyd Park to Addiscombe tram stop (which would either involve scrapping sections of the tram system or widening of the route via the purchase of people’s homes) and then a railway bridge over Lower Addiscombe Road.
“I am therefore delighted that the study concludes there is no case for the Government to take forward this scheme.”
Which was a typical piece of Barwell doublespeak, because while carefully reassuring his constituents, Barwell will have known that his government colleague, Chris Grayling, the transport minister, has been encouraging the lobbyists behind BML2 to look for private funding for the scheme.
As an alternative to the Croydon Gateway super station, the Department for Transport report also spoke of a tunnel being dug under East Croydon for BML2, making it the super-interchange with extra subterranean platforms, while a Lewisham-bound track would go through Addiscombe.
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