Reopening regional or rural lines will not normally be the most effective way of delivering the capacity increases that, as the rail White Paper explained, are our priority. I nevertheless remain willing to consider any reopening proposal that is supported by a proper business case and can be funded privately.
I am grateful for the Minister’s supportive comments here and elsewhere. He will know that a strong cross-party campaign, backed by a professional board including members of Network Rail, wants the line to be reopened. Can he guarantee that if a business case is produced—and I accept the need for that—he will look sympathetically at the possibility of providing funds? Sometimes it seems that it is easy to obtain funds for new roads, but not funds for new railways.
I can certainly guarantee that we will look at the business case. Capital costs would have to be met entirely by the private sector, but as well as the private investment that would be needed for the rebuilding of the route, extra finance might be required to enable trains to run along it, in which case the Department would have to step in and decide whether there was a value-for-money case for those services. If a robust business case is supplied, however, I shall be more than happy to consider it, and ensure that my officials give it a fair hearing.
A strong argument in favour of reopening the link is the increased popularity of the existing service to Uckfield, but one of the consequences of that increased popularity is that hundreds of cars are being parked every day, very inconsiderately, in residential areas because of the lack of parking at the local stations. Will the Minister work with councils and the appropriate rail authorities to see how the problem can be addressed?
There is indeed a growing problem with car parking at Uckfield, complicated by the fact that existing land owned by BRB (Residuary) has been tied up in a five-year development plan of which only one year has elapsed. However, if the council is willing to re-examine a policy that, I understand, restricts access by cars to any feasible car park on the site from the high street, it may be possible to find a way of making progress on this important issue.