In a project whose aim is “Unlocking the Brighton Mainline”, Coast to Capital have released a manifesto that identifies the route connecting Brighton and London as “the single top priority for investment in the region” arguing that “there is a strong business case for investment”.
The group has identified a need for “significant long-term rail investment to support a growing regional economy and maintain its competitive advantage”, addressing this strategic issue, for the group, will “protect both the economic potential of the region and the significant contribution that it makes to London’s economy”.
Coast to Capital is a business-led collaboration between the private, public and education sectors across a diverse area which includes the London Borough of Croydon, East Surrey, Gatwick Diamond, Brighton & Hove, Lewes and West Sussex.
Proposed upgrades include enhancements to the Windmill Bridge Junction and a major redevelopment of East Croydon Station, which will focus on unlocking this bottleneck to enhance capacity, connectivity and resilience, driving growth and productivity throughout the region. This is seen as vital for links to London, as well as international connectivity.
With a population of 1.9 million and a contribution of £49.7 GVA to the UK economy, the Coast to Capital area is the 7 th largest regional economy in the country. As a key part of the net-contributing South-East economy, the region is vital to overall UK growth and prosperity.
Part of the reason for this high economic contribution is the region’s high levels of employment, with around 90,000 businesses offering more than 800,000 jobs to a well-educated workforce (45% of the working age population is educated to degree level or above, compared to a national average of 38%).
Businesses in the Coast to Capital region currently benefit from several competitive advantages. As well as an educated workforce, businesses also benefit from the international connectivity provided by Gatwick Airport, the world’s most productive single runway airport. Proximity to London and a mobile population (33% commute over 10k to get to work) also contribute to the region’s economic success.
However, recent growth has been slower than other parts of the South East, with 16.5% GVA growth since 2010, compared to 19.5% across the South East. Raising GVA per head from £24,900 to £28,000 (South East average) would add around £5.7 billion to the Coast to Capital (and national) economy. There is strong evidence to suggest poor rail infrastructure is suppressing growth in the region and negatively influencing strategic investment decisions from business.
Passenger journeys on Southern and Thameslink services have risen by 10% to 105 million per annum in the past five years and Network Rail predict a doubling of train passengers by 2020, driven by the region’s growing economy. Commuter journeys have already risen accordingly, to jobs in London (which drives 10,000 commuters per hour on Southern route during weekday peak), but also in Croydon, the Gatwick Diamond and Brighton.
The Brighton Mainline (BML) is central to the infrastructure of the region, with passengers accessing key interchange points, such as Clapham Junction, East Croydon, Gatwick Airport and Brighton. The line acts as a commuter route, but also as a driver of economic growth for the entire region.
The benefits of upgrading the BML will be felt by everyone who uses it. This includes those living and working close to the stations on the line, but also much more widely across the region.
Without the upgrades outlined in the BML Upgrade Programme, the region will not feel the full benefits of the £6.5 billion Thameslink Programme, which will deliver some additional capacity and reliability from 2018.
The direct benefits of upgrading the line are claimed to include:
Capacity – More trains per hour at peak time (From 36 today increased to 42-44) – A significant capacity increase at peak times
Connectivity – Opportunity to run new services – More options in timetable development
Resilience – Increased service reliability, addressing the “poor and unreliable condition” of the network as identified by the Gibb report.
Productivity – Value for money (estimated benefits of £2.40 to every £1 spent) – Commercial opportunities to redevelop stations, particularly at East Croydon – Encouraging balanced economic growth by bringing businesses out from London
Network Rail is currently in the process of developing designs further, so that costs, timescales, risks and opportunities can be finalised. Government will need to allow Network Rail to begin the stakeholder consultation process for the Transport and Works Act. This will safeguard the land needed for development. Government will then need to fully commit to funding the project.
Coast to Capital LEP intends to bring together businesses, education representatives and politicians from across the region to make the strongest possible case to Ministers in order to prioritise investment in this vital piece of regional infrastructure.