One of the important campaigns that we call need to keep running is the pressure on Eurostar to rethink its current position on running services from Ashford. Eurostar’s evidence to the Joint Transportation Board of Ashford Borough Council that it cannot yet afford it may be true, but that should not mean that we cannot see a return of the service in the long term.
There is after all some history here. For a time Eurostar withdrew the Ashford-Brussels service, but after a campaign for years which I ran alongside Kent County Council an Ashford Borough Council they reversed their decision. I am hoping for the same result this time, and again the Councils are united in their determination to see our services return.
This is not just a Kent issue. I have been speaking to the Rail Minister about the fact that the national Government has put in millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to upgrade the signalling at Ashford and is therefore entitled to a return from that investment.
By a terrible irony that signalling upgrade was finally completed the week before Covid struck and cancelled all cross-channel services, so no one has ever seen any benefit from it.
I think this is an important enough issue that I have asked the Speaker of the House of Commons to grant a debate on it when the House returns after the recess for the Party Conferences. In the debate I hope to explain to Ministers at the Department of Transport the economic importance of the Ashford international trains to the whole of East Kent, and the environmental benefits of encouraging more passengers to use the rail rather than the road.
So far we have at least persuaded Eurostar to keep the decision open. At one stage I feared they were going to close the station altogether. But we will need to continue fighting, and we will.