Last week I met with David Statham the Managing Director of Southeastern trains to discuss the disruption to services caused by the closure of the Folkestone to Dover line. This line will be out of action for many months until work is completed to rebuild the seawall and viaduct carrying the railway. The consequences of this, as regular rail users know, have affected passengers right across Kent.
Some of the trains that were used to serve Folkestone and Dover have now been re-routed via Canterbury and Ramsgate to support the communities in the east of the county that have lost their service through Dover to Ashford and London. Whilst some changes to services were probably inevitable, Southeastern have got the balance wrong. There are now too few direct trains leaving Folkestone at the peak times. I have told Southeastern that I want to see services restored to ease the congestion at Folkestone, particularly in the mornings. I believe that Southeastern also need to review the High Speed rail services to east Kent, so that there is more of a focus on meeting passengers demand, rather than just achieving geographic spread.
This whole episode has also further exposed a problem to which Southeastern need to start providing answers. We need more rolling stock to provide more services to meet the demand being created by the growing numbers of passengers. High Speed rail has been a great boost to the regeneration of the economy of east Kent, and we need to make sure we have an effective service for the future.
When the closure for repair of the Folkestone to Dover line was announced, I called for compensation to be awarded automatically to season ticket holders and was pleased that Southeastern agreed to this request. They have now announced the details of this scheme, and stated that Folkestone passengers will not receive this compensation, as the town still has a direct high speed service. Southeastern have told passengers from the town that they will have to apply for compensation on delayed journeys in the normal way. This is not acceptable. There should be some recognition that whilst the direct high speed service remains from Folkestone, it is much reduced. Passengers now face considerable congestion if they take the direct trains available, or slower journeys with a change in services at Ashford. Either way, this is not the service they should reasonably expect to receive, and they should get some compensation for this.
On Friday last week I attended a business breakfast at Lydd Airport to recognise the success of the Marsh Million scheme in supporting small and start up firms. Over 100 jobs have been created and safeguarded thanks to business loans and grants given out by the Marsh Million. There are many new businesses in Romney Marsh that reflect the traditions of the area, and of Kent; these include Romney Tweed, Romney Marsh Wools and the Romney Marsh brewery. I was also pleased to learn that Growth Rings, a social enterprise based at Sycamore Farm in Old Romney, has been put on the approved supplier list for the restoration works for the Palace of Westminster. Growth Rings specialise in making traditional wood panelling and furniture and are a fantastic advert for the skills and talent that can be found on Romney Marsh.