Labour and Conservative councillors have united to warn that government cuts to SE London rail services could harm the new Kidbrooke Village development, where over 5,000 new homes are being built, and called for local trains to be devolved to the mayor instead.
There has been a wave of anger at Southeastern’s plans to reduce services on routes though Woolwich, Bexleyheath and Sidcup from December as part of Conservative government funding restrictions.
Some stations which had trains every 10 minutes before the pandemic will now have gaps of over 20 minutes.
The Woolwich line will also lose all its trains to Charing Cross as part of plans to make the rail junction at Lewisham less congested, which have long been advocated within the rail industry. The Bexleyheath line, which serves Eltham and Kidbrooke, will also lose all but its rush-hour services to the West End.
Southeastern insists the plans are needed to reduce delays at Lewisham, where trains have to wait at a flat junction where routes to Charing Cross, Cannon Street and Victoria cross over and split (see video below). But angry passengers say that changing trains at London Bridge will inconvenience those with limited mobility and have criticised the loss of direct services to St Thomas’s Hospital, which is close to Waterloo East station.
Labour councillor David Gardner and Conservative opposition leader Matt Hartley teamed up last night to present a motion on the issue to Greenwich Council.
Last week Southeastern’s managing director, Steve White, endured three hours of criticism from councillors and residents over the train company’s plans at a scrutiny panel meeting.
Both Gardner and Hartley focused on Kidbrooke Village, which is heavily dependent on rail services and where the developer, Berkeley Homes, has built a new station as part of the scheme.
“We are trying to persuade people to get out of their cars and to use active travel and other sustainable travel like the rail service,” Gardner said.
“Much of our regeneration, particularly in the north of the Borough, but also Kidbrooke is actually based on having a very good rail service.”
There is anxiety at Woolwich Town Hall about the impact of the rail cuts on major redevelopment schemes in the borough. Every building in the capital is given a rating from Transport for London based on the quality of its rail and bus links. While parts of Woolwich have the highest possible rating, Kidbrooke Village has a middling score.
Cuts to rail services mean those ratings will now be out of date – which councillors fear will threaten the viability of desperately-needed new housing.
Hartley said that Southeastern had not “taken into account Kidbrooke Village, a major new centre, literally full of people who commute at least part of the week. We have seen no evidence that the continued growth of Kidbrooke Village or indeed anywhere else in southeast London has been factored into these plans.”
Branding the cuts, which were made without consultation, “appalling”, Hartley said that White had “achieved the near impossible. He has united every council in southeast London, every councillor, every MP, every assembly member, both Labour and Conservative, in horror.”
Both Gardner and Hartley called for local rail services to be taken over by Transport for London. While TfL runs London Overground and the Elizabeth Line, which are both part of the national network, efforts to transfer other lines to City Hall control have been stymied by the Conservative government.
“We’d have one public transport network working together, not against different parts of the network,” Hartley said. That proposal has had cross-party support across London for years now.”
Council leader Anthony Okereke said the cuts would affect tourists’ ability to visit Greenwich and added: “I’m concerned that these cuts forward by Southeastern will limit our ability to tackle climate change, reduce emissions, and improve air quality.”
Chris Lloyd, a councillor for West Thamesmead, which is served by Plumstead station, said the cuts would make it “even more difficult for people from some of the most disadvantaged communities to get into central London”.
Gardner said that “our vitality, our happiness, and our prosperity as a borough” was dependent on frequent rail services.
Southeastern said last week that its December timetable would fit passenger demand and lead to more reliable services.
It has also said that reducing the number of trains crossing the junction at Lewisham would make it easier to restore services as demand grows, and that it was already looking at changes it could make based on passenger feedback.
More details about the changes, and a contact form, can be found at southeasternrailway.co.uk.
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