Fantastic news! Theresa Villiers MP, the Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, visited Clapham Junction Station on Saturday. Cyril and I were delighted to be invited by Jane Ellison, the Conservative candidate for Battersea, to meet her. Unfortunately Cyril was out of the country, but I was able to spend 45 minutes with Theresa and Jane discussing the urgent need for improvements and our frustration at the lack of any long term strategy or major funding commitments from Network Rail.
It was reassuring to hear that Theresa shared our concern as to Network Rail’s lack of accountability, and would plan to make them answerable to both commuters and parliament under a future Conservative administration.
Improving rail travel is also apparently a key policy commitment, with an emphasis on encouraging far more passengers to choose trains instead of planes for journeys within the UK and to Northern Europe. We pointed out that Clapham Junction is already set to expand by more than 25% with the opening of the East London Line and the likely arrival of CrossRail Phase II and a new Heathrow Link. In the circumstances, Network Rail’s refusal to consider substantial new funding to enlarge and improve the station’s facilities within the next funding period (RP5) is inexplicable.
Theresa also spoke of the need for longer rail franchises to encourage strategic planning and investment. Certainly it has been our experience that Network Rail are all too able to palm off responsibility for Clapham Junction to South West Trains and Southern Railways, neither of whom appear much interested in making any substantial investment in the station. One of the greatest problems is that Clapham Junction is not recognised as a ‘major station’ and is not therefore within Network Rail’s direct funding programme. We all agreed that this was incredible given that Clapham Junction is already amongst the UK’s busiest stations as well as being the largest interchange station in Europe.
We toured the station with Theresa commenting particularly on the tiny station entrance through the Stop Shop! Jane and I pointed out the bottleneck areas through the ticket barriers and the meagre ticketing facilities which result in massive queues for the ticket machines every Monday morning. The tunnel rendered her speechless (or perhaps her thoughts had just wandered for a while?) and then, just as we were pointing out the massive gap on Platform 16, a train pulled in disgorging leaping passengers and people bearing suitcases who had to be helped off. I emphasised that at CJAG’s meeting with Network Rail in January, they stated that the funding previously allocated to address the gap on Platforms 15-17 had now been withdrawn, regardless of the obvious safety issues.
The conversation turned to public/private funding for rail initiatives with both Jane and Theresa emphasising that there would almost certainly need to be an element of commercial/residential use if the station was to be developed in any major way. CJAG agrees that this might be inevitable, but believes strongly that any redevelopment should be Network Rail led, with the needs of commuters being placed first. I said that proposals such as Delancey’s which would have turned the site into a massive shopping centre and residential complex, with the station being booted up the hill to make way for it, were rightly turned down for failing to address this. Given Clapham Junction’s location and character, I emphasised that it was highly unlikely that any predominantly private scheme would serve the needs of commuters, and it was up to Network Rail to look for private sector contributions – not the other way around. Theresa appeared to agree with this and mentioned how Birmingham New Street was an example of imbalance between commercial and transport uses, with the station resembling a large shopping centre. (Mental note – must get up to Birmingham to have a proper look.)
I really enjoyed meeting Theresa and extend massive thanks to Jane for giving us such a fantastic opportunity to make our case in front of (possibly) the next Secretary of State for Transport. I can’t wait for 6th May to see what happens!