Rail bypass plan ‘could damage local economy’

Polegate Railway Station ENGSNL00120110612145630
Polegate Railway Station ENGSNL00120110612145630

Plans to open a short stretch of railway track between Polegate and Pevensey could have a damaging effect on Eastbourne, according to a number of the town’s key figures.

The proposed Willingdon Chord would allow coastway trains to bypass Eastbourne, cutting journey times between Polegate and Hastings by around 20 minutes.

However, the fear is that with fewer trains diverting via Hampden Park and Eastbourne, it could affect the town’s tourism and commercial development, as well as seeing a reduced train service for commuters and train users.

Polegate MP Norman Baker is in favour of the short stretch of rail and has written to Transport Secretary Patrick McLaughlin to press the case.

He said, “Installing the Willingdon Chord would be good news for my constituents in Lewes and Polegate. It would make access to both Hastings and Channel Tunnel trains at Ashford easier and quicker, encourage freight traffic along the rail corridor, and generally improve the efficiency of the railway. It makes no sense for every single coastway train to have to divert in and out of Eastbourne as presently happens.”

Eastbourne MP Stephen Lloyd and Cllr David Tutt, leader of Eastbourne Borough Council, were quick to pledge their support to the town’s fast train campaign as a more suitable option.

Mr Lloyd said, “The fast train to Eastbourne that we have been campaigning for will also take large chunks of time off the journey between Lewes and Hastings, and as it is more achievable, is my preferred solution over the Willingdon Chord.”

Cllr Tutt agreed, adding, “While I can see the benefits of the Willingdon Chord for people living in the Polegate area, it would need to be part of a package of guaranteed fast trains between Eastbourne and London.”

That sentiment was echoed by Adam McNaught-Davis, of Eastbourne’s Town Team, who felt a Willingdon Chord would prove detrimental to the town.

He said, “The Town Team believe Eastbourne is enjoying a fragile new reputation as a progressive destination for tourists, shoppers, industry and house buyers and it would obviously be counterproductive to risk damaging momentum, not least because Eastbourne’s prosperity is incredibly important to East Sussex as well those who 
live here.”