By Carolyn Griffith
Lymington Times – 3 June 2022
Ploughing ahead with plans to reopen the Waterside railway line to passengers could damage efforts to secure "vital" £80m funding to improve the A326 main road, New Forest East MP Julian Lewis has claimed. He spoke out after raising his concerns about the project at a meeting with transport minister Wendy Morton.
As reported in the A&T, last October Chancellor Rishi Sunak allocated £7m towards the reopening of the railway which is currently used only for freight trains to and from Marchwood port. The cash is for three years of development funding to look into bringing back public services between Totton and Fawley.
Ms Morton told Dr Lewis the money had been designated specifically for the railway scheme and would not come from alternative budgets, such as for the A326. She also revealed there would be a public consultation about the plans in the summer, and she agreed for her officials to attend a future meeting with Dr Lewis over the A326 funding.
But Dr Lewis told the A&T:
"I remain concerned that the levelling-up agenda could result in the government deciding that the vital upgrade of the A326 should be rejected and that priority be given to road projects elsewhere because we had already received substantial funding for the more problematic railway scheme.
"There is no doubt that the A326 must be our top priority."
Dr Lewis said he also discussed several potential problems the reintroduction of the passenger railway could bring, including gridlocked roads in Totton and Marchwood due to more frequent lowering of level crossing gates.
He also raised concerns about disturbance to residents living close to the railway line, the impact on the Hythe ferry if passengers were lost to the new service, and he questioned the economic viability of the scheme.
There was a risk to the viability of the Blue Star bus service if the railway was reintroduced, he added, and relayed concerns from managing director Andrew Wickham who said he feared buses becoming unviable, leading to a reduction or withdrawal.
In a letter to Dr Lewis after their meeting, Ms Morton stated "no final decisions have been made" on the railway scheme and work over the next six months, including a public consultation, would ascertain whether the re-introduction would benefit the community and was affordable and sustainable.
Campaigners have been pushing for the line to reopen to help alleviate traffic on the A326 which is expected to increase further ahead of the planned development of 1,500 homes at the former Fawley power station.