Full steam ahead for Ashford

Partners behind the Ashford International Station signalling upgrade project have expressed their delight that full funding for the project has now been secured, following the government’s Growth Deal announcement made on Thursday, February 2nd.

Andrew Percy MP, Minister at the Department for Communities and Local Government, announced a government cash injection of £102m for capital projects for the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP), which covers East Sussex, Essex, Kent, Medway, Southend and Thurrock with a number of projects in Kent and Medway set to benefit.

The package of projects to be funded through this round of Local Growth Fund will improve educational attainment, create jobs and provide the enabling infrastructure to support the delivery of new homes and employment, and will leverage an additional £112m in private sector funding.

For Ashford, the Ashford International Rail Connectivity Project was awarded £4.8m, meaning the total project funding (£10.5m) has now been secured.

Upgrading the signalling will mean that the next generation of Eurostar trains - and any future European rail operators - can continue to stop at the station. It will also maintain Ashford’s place at the heart of Europe’s transport network and safeguard direct high-speed international services, which benefit the whole of the East Kent economy.

A partnership of Kent County Council, Ashford Borough Council, Network Rail, Eurostar, HS1, Department for Transport and the Office for Road and Rail are working closely together to deliver the new signalling by spring 2018.

Cllr Gerry Clarkson, Leader of Ashford Borough Council, said: “We are pleased to have secured the total funding for the project, which will see the retention and potential expansion of international rail services, cementing our links on the European high speed rail network.

“This is a great boost for the town and the wider East Kent economy, including the many local residents, businesses and visitors who use these services on a regular basis.

“Ashford is arguably the most connected place in the UK, with direct links to major European cities as well as only being 38 minutes from London by High Speed 1.”

Damian Green, MP for Ashford, said: “This is a vitally important project for the future growth of Ashford, and I am delighted that we have been successful in obtaining the money to pay for it. International links are a key factor in Ashford’s appeal, and this makes sure that we have them for the long term.”

Cllr Matthew Balfour, Kent County Council Cabinet Member for Environment and Transport, said:

“This is fantastic news for Ashford as well as the south east because it means we will continue to have direct rail access to continental Europe.

“This signalling upgrade will ensure that Ashford continues to be served by international rail services, and opens the way for other operators to develop through services to Europe in the future.”

Network Rail’s route enhancement manager for the South East, Mike Smith, said: “Investing in the railway and the connections it brings will deliver economic and social benefits and it’s great that the Government recognises this.

“Ashford has grown exponentially since international train services arrived more than 20 years ago and we are now working closely with our partners to cement the town’s place on the international European high speed railway network.”

This latest award of Local Growth Funding is on top of £488m of Growth Deals monies already awarded to the SELEP. This latest investment of £102m will deliver an additional 6,129 new homes, create or safeguard 30,785 jobs and secure a further £141 million of private sector investment across the region.

In total the SELEP Growth Deal from 2014 - 2020 now stands at £590.8m which is set to deliver 78,000 jobs, 29,000 homes in total and attract a further £960 million extra investment into the South East over the next five years.

SELEP Chairman Christian Brodie said: “This Growth Deal settlement is a huge boost for the economy in Kent and Medway. We have secured funding to channel significant investment into the projects, which are of highest priority to our businesses and local areas.”

Geoff Miles, SELEP Vice Chair and Chair of Kent & Medway Economic Partnership, said: “This investment enables us to drive forward our shared growth agenda delivering economic growth, new jobs, facilitating housing, improving connectivity and boosting skills.

“The additional funding that will be leveraged into the South East as a result of these investments is testament to the continued success of our area.”