Sevenoaks District Draft Local Plan Consultation July 2018

Document Section Draft Local Plan July 2018 Ensuring Well-Connected Communities are Supported by Appropriate Infrastructure Improving Health, Schools and Transport [View all comments on this section]
Comment ID DLPP940
Respondent Sevenoaks Rail Travellers Asso… [View all comments by this respondent]
Response Date 07 Sep 2018
Current Status Accepted
Response Type OBSERVATIONS
Comment

The Sevenoaks Rail Travellers Association (SRTA) represents rail users from stations around Sevenoaks

town, up the Darenth Valley as far as Eynsford and east to Kemsing with a total annual footfall of almost 5

million. We are commenting on the draft local plan at

https://www.sevenoaks.gov.uk/info/20069128/new_local_plan/389/draft_local_plan_consultation .

Current Situation

Sevenoaks is one of the busiest commuter stations in Kent with an annual footfall of almost 4million people.

The existing mainline fast services to London, our main work destination, are full and often standing in the

peak. Services via Bat & Ball and the Darenth Valley are slow, calling at all stations, and currently less than

reliable with poor passenger information in times of disruption.

A fast, reliable train service is essential to maintain the vitality and prosperity of our community as well as

providing vital links for employment, education and tourism. As we shall indicate the rail industry recognizes

that our current local rail resources are under serious strain. Additional resources are scarce nationally and

hence competition for new investment is fierce.

The SDC Local Plan provides for an increase in housing of about 14,000 units by the mid 2030¡¯s, on a base

today of 49,000. Allowing for an increase in the proportion of retired residents, this still means an increase

in the working population of around 25%. Many of their jobs will require access to London, which the

existing rail service cannot provide.

Only One Option to Increase Rail Capacity

The peak time capacity of the West Kent mainline through Sevenoaks is fully utilized every working day.

Currently there are 24 mainline paths in the morning peak. The latest Network Rail studyi forecasts a need

for one additional AM peak period train path up to 2022 and a further 4 train paths between 2022 and 2044

based on data from national and local government.

Network Rail report that while it may be possible, following some infrastructure work in central London, to

provide the first additional path, the 4 further additional paths needed CANNOT be delivered due to very

severe infrastructure constraints. Hence they recommend seeking alternative solutions.

Their only solution is the proposed new service from Maidstone East via Otford and Swanley to London

Bridge and the Thameslink core. This new service is the ONLY proposed increase in rail capacity to

London from anywhere in West Kent. This service will provide relief to the existing services due to its very

attractive journey times (33mins from Otford, 24 mins from Swanley to London Bridge running non-stop

between Swanley and London Bridge) and will undoubtedly generate additional journey opportunities and

hence additional passengers especially from the communities at Kings Hill and West Malling. Many people

moved to those locations on the promise from developers of the new service. It is proposed to operate 2

trains per hour throughout the whole day 6 days a week with an option to provide a Sunday service if

demand is sufficient.

This will not now be delivered until Dec 2019, one year after the original planned date. However, many

industry observers believe it is seriously at risk from possible capacity limits through the Thameslink core in

London and potentially from competition from other routes for its paths. It is essential that significant new

housing in the first half of the local plan period is conditional on delivery of this service at an early stage.

Unless this service is delivered, any significant increase in housing between Sevenoaks and Swanley

would exacerbate the serious overcrowding on existing trains.

The published timetable for the proposed new service offers good connections with the Bat & Ball slow

trains which will continue to serve the smaller stations along the Darenth Valley is also essential to increase

capacity and connectivity to other destinations via Swanley and Maidstone. In summary this new service

offers substantial benefits to Sevenoaks District Council residents and deserves its strong support.

Need for Digital Railway Technology

Any significant housing increases between Sevenoaks and Westerham will increase the load on

Sevenoaks station. It is therefore essential that there is early investigation of digital railway technology to

maximise capacity on mainline between Tonbridge and Orpington before the first half of the local plan

period is reached. This is not included in the National Rail route study, which regards it as ¡®too difficult¡¯.

However, its deployment is essential to deliver even a modest increase (perhaps 10%) increase in the

capacity of the line. Without this, Sevenoaks links to its main employment source will come under severe

strain.

Growing Demand from Student Travel

An increase in housing will further increase demands for travel to school. School journeys into Sevenoaks

from north and south, and out of Sevenoaks to Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells make up a large part of the

traffic at both Sevenoaks and Bat & Ball. The new service specification issued by DfT in its Invitation to

Tender for the next franchise halves the frequency of direct services to Tunbridge Wells from 2022, which

would mean increased journey times and poorer connectivity. It will also impact travel to work in the local

labour market. It is not compatible with any significant increase in housing, or the school population.

Environmental Impact

While rail travel is environmentally preferable to road transport, reaching our local stations is challenging.

Both our stations in Sevenoaks are close to congestion bottlenecks and pollution hotspots at Riverhead,

Bat & Ball and in Sevenoaks town centre. For some this makes reaching rail services slow and unhealthy.

We see the lack of strategic proposals to relieve daily congestion and resulting pollution around our stations

as a weakness in the plan which should be addressed.

Summary

The lack of any reference in Chapter 4 - ¡®Well Connected Communities¡± of the Local Plan to the constraints

and challenges outlined above is alarming. It suggests a lack of ambition for what needs to be achieved.

There is no mechanism identified through which rail capacity increases of the size required can be

delivered, or who needs to act to achieve and finance them. It will need central government funding, and

should, in our view, involve Transport for London in developing shorter distance services

SRTA believes that fast, reliable trains services throughout the area are essential to Sevenoaks¡¯ continued

vitality as a community for living and working in. We urge the Council to recognize the importance of the

railway in its Local Plan and to act vigorously to ensure that it meets the needs of our growing community.

 

Attachments