New Forest East MP Julian Lewis calls for 'reality check' on Waterside railway passengers plan
NEW Forest East MP Julian Lewis has called for a “reality check” over the planned reintroduction of the Waterside railway passenger service.
His intervention follows the chancellor allocating £7m for the project which supporters claim will alleviate traffic on the busy A326 ahead of the planned development of 1,500 homes at the old Fawley power station.
But Dr Lewis has written to transport minister Chris Heaton-Harris calling for caution due to “repeated failures to address at least five major concerns” that exist over the scheme.
Dr Lewis added he had been assured it would progress on the basis that a comprehensive feasibility study would be carried out – a “fundamental first step” agreed to by Hampshire County Council.
While a study has been done, he believes it has not addressed matters that flag up concerns in detail.
“Sadly, it is now necessary to challenge this process because of the repeated failure to address at least five major concerns about the practicability of the scheme, despite plentiful opportunities to do so,” Dr Lewis wrote.
“The latest suggestion that a further £7m should be spent on developing the case for reintroducing a passenger service, before practical problems have been considered, is a frankly alarming development.
“My own view remains one of cautious scepticism: I am not against the proposal in principle, provided that it can be made to work without creating unacceptable disadvantages.”
The letter lists concerns there could be more road congestion in Totton and Marchwood; the service would not go all the way to old Fawley village; and poses a threat to bus services and the Hythe Ferry.
Dr Lewis highlighted that Colin Cooley, an objector and former project manager at Fawley oil refinery, had outlined concerns to HCC and a Department for Transport representative.
An undertaking was given to respond to his points within three weeks, but when it came it merely stated government ministers had agreed to take the scheme forward, Dr Lewis said.
As reported in the A&T, HCC had been against the scheme in the past but more recently has backed exploratory work.
No public trains have run on the route for at least 50 years, but a successful test journey was made in 2020 by South Western Railway.
One of the main voices behind it has been Cllr David Harrison, who said the introduction of a service would have an “overall positive impact” in easing congestion in Totton.
There were issues with the Junction Road train gates, he admitted, but added: “Oddly enough, the introduction of the passenger service represents the best chance of finally getting something done about this – an issue locals have been complaining about for over a century.”
It was a “shame” security issues meant the service would not go past the oil refinery, he said, but pointed out the line could be “extended at a future date”.
Cllr Harrison acknowledged the impact on bus and ferry services was “a concern”, but said: “However, they need not necessarily be in competition.
“I think we have probably reached peak car use and so there is room for expansion of all public transport options.
“Experience elsewhere has shown that joint ticketing arrangements are, in fact, very popular. You take a ferry into the city and come back by train, or do all sorts of things, involving buses too.”