Over the last two years we've seen a strong performance from our local economy with new businesses starting, established firms expanding and big falls in unemployment. Excellent infrastructure like high-speed rail and the Channel Tunnel has undoubtedly made East Kent an attractive place for businesses to invest. We can't stand still though and further investment with the development of the Folkestone Seafront, the improvements at Lydd Airport and a ten year life extension to Dungeness power station will give our area an additional boost.
Looking further ahead there is one major asset that could unlock big investment into our area, making it one of the most attractive places in Kent for businesses to locate and creating large numbers of high quality jobs. This is the area around Westenhanger railway station and Junction 11 of the M20. I believe we should be developing plans for Westenhanger to become a parkway railway station with direct access from the motorway junction and linked to the services area there. This would also mean that traffic could be routed directly to the station avoiding Westenhanger village.
There would be considerable benefits for rail passengers, as Westenhanger would be a better location for residents in Hythe, Romney Marsh and the North Downs to access high-speed rail services. Already there is concern that too many passengers are using Ashford station, and many of these will travel in from surrounding areas. This could be avoided if they could park and ride from Westenhanger. As the Channel Tunnel rail link runs parallel to the old railway at Westenhanger, it should be possible for trains to run on these tracks at higher speeds, helping to reduce journey times. A parkway station at Westenhanger and Junction 11 would also make this an attractive location for businesses to locate.
I have discussed this concept with members of Shepway Council, Kent County Council, the Kent Local Enterprise Partnership, Network Rail and Southeastern railway; there is common agreement that in principle this is an attractive proposal. I will be working to bring these groups together to discuss how we could develop a plan and find the resources to make this happen. Funding could come, in part for example, through a future application to the Government's local growth fund. Transport infrastructure projects of this kind have a high rate of return in unlocking further potential investment into an area and are therefore attractive to the government.
Shepway Council has recently announced that it is going to be working up a master plan to look at the potential of the land at junction 11 and between the motorway and railway along the approach to it. I have discussed with them the potential of a Parkway station at Westenhanger as part of their master plan and I will be keen to see their recommendations. I would also be interested to hear from readers about your thoughts on this idea.