Thanet Parkway Station opens on Monday (July 31) some 13 years after the scheme was first proposed and at a cost that has quadrupled from an estimated £11m in 2015 to just shy of £44m.
The total price tag may even exceed £44m as further funding has been needed to complete level crossing and signalling work. The project work was impacted by rising inflation.
Last November a further £875,000 was granted to Network Rail for Thanet Parkway railway station scheme to help overcome cost increases due to the impacts of the COVID pandemic, Brexit, and inflation.
The government funding, which was allocated via the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP), was redistributed after projects in Sussex and Essex stalled. The SELEP board agreed the cash would be made available to existing projects that were hit by higher costs or wanted to expand on the initial schemes.
Thanet Parkway, which entered its delivery phase in 2020 with planning consent granted in September 2020, was one of the successful bids.
This followed a previous series of increases. Market-led changes totalled £330k due to increases in the cost of steel by £114k, £117k increase for the acoustic barrier, and £76k increase in the cost of hoarding. A re-costing of the scheme resulted in a rise of more than £5m.
Soft landscaping costs also increased; the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the costs of the archaeological excavation as additional staff welfare provision was needed on site and a further impact as a result of COVID shutdowns in China has been the reduced supply of microchips, which has affected the purchase of Help Points, Customer Information Screens and control systems for the lighting on the cycleway.
This has resulted in the installation of photocells on the lighting as an interim measure at additional cost. Other project increases have been caused by poor ground conditions needing multiple tonnes of stone to be shipped in from Norway, significant finds affecting the duration and extent of archaeological excavations and in August 2022 increased costs for level crossing works.
Timeline of cost increase:
- February 2021 – £5.8m paid by Kent County Council.
- November 2021 – £1.7m paid by Kent County Council.
- August 2022 – £875k SELEP fund redistribution with the SELEP board noting: “This update does not reflect further cost increases due to the level crossing.”
Former Thanet councillor turned blogger Ian Driver has submitted enquiries regarding the cost hike and sourced details from SELEP documents. He says he believes the station will become “the most expensive white elephant in Kent’s history” with the final costs possibly rising to £50m.
He added: “I believe that the final costs of Thanet Parkway Station is likely to be £50million or more. I also believe that KCC, Thanet Council and Network Rail have been trying to keep the news of this massive increase a secret from the public.
“Surely such important changes to KCC’s financial contribution and the warning of more costs to come should have been reported to a full KCC council meeting, and surely, bearing in mind KCCs £86miliion budget deficit, the public should have been made aware of a possible, and very large, Parkway overspend. But this didn’t happen.”
In response to a query from Mr Driver over the final cost a KCC spokesperson said: “ As with all major projects, final costs are only confirmed when the project’s accounts with contractors are finalised and closed”.
“All costs published to date are estimates, once the project is complete and final accounts with contractors are agreed and paid, the final project cost will be published.”
Get Building Fund £12,874,000
Local Growth Fund £14,000,000
Kent County Council £11,585,319
Thanet council £2,000,000
New Stations Fund £3,400,000
Total £43,859,319 (excluding additional level crossing costs)
What’s at the station?
Thanet Parkway, which was initially due to open in May, has two 250 metre platforms that can accommodate 12-car trains, and will offer services to St Pancras International via Ashford International in 70 minutes and mainline connections to London terminals and across Kent and the Medway towns.
There are lifts and stairs to access the platforms, ticket vending machines, waiting shelters, acoustic barriers, parking for 293 vehicles, bus stops, pick-up and drop-off zones, electric charging points, hearing loops, cycle storage, CCTV, seating, landscaping works and passenger help points to provide remote assistance for those who need it.
Parking includes 16 spaces for Blue Badge holders and a number of charging points for electric vehicles.
Pick up and drop off zones have also been set out, along with a station bus stop which will be served by an electric minibus shuttle to Discovery Park.
The station is accessed from the A299 Hengist Way with a new pedestrian and cycleway to and from Clive Road in Cliffsend village.
Acoustic barriers have been installed to absorb noise impact and provide privacy for lineside neighbours once train services start operating from the station.
Network Rail says that the station provides the potential for an integrated transport hub in the future.
Thanet council leader Rick Everitt said last month: “Thanet Parkway represents a major statement of confidence in Thanet’s future by national and regional funders. This significant investment could easily have gone elsewhere in the South East. It has come to Thanet because the strength of the business case for this station was widely recognised.
“Thanet Parkway will supplement our existing stations and provide new opportunities for residents who do not currently have easy access to them, without extending existing journey times for those who do not need to use it.
“It means fewer people will need to drive to Ramsgate Station, in particular, and park in nearby residential roads. The new station will make Thanet a more attractive prospect for people looking to relocate to the district.”
People relocating to the district and housing development were two of the focuses for the station project with a report drawn up for Thanet council in 2019 examining how this would increase housing delivery.
The report, by Wessex Economics Ltd, said: “In total, sites for some 9,000 homes are either being developed or identified for development within a 3 mile radius of Thanet Parkway. The commencement of services from Thanet Parkway will provide developers with a valuable tool to market their new developments.”
The Wessex report cites expected in-migration to Thanet from factors such as “increasing numbers of people able to work remotely.”
It adds: “Existing stations in Thanet have very limited car parking facilities, and are located in the urban areas which can make access difficult at peak hours. Evidence from elsewhere shows that part of the appeal of Parkway Stations is their ease of access, and the availability of parking. Parkway stations contribute to making the overall journey to work starting from home to office much more straightforward and less liable to unexpected delay.
“The opening of the Parkway Station will also help to accelerate the development of the 9,000 new homes being built outside the three mile radius of the station.”
A previous study for Kent County Council estimated that over a 30 year period the start of services to London from Thanet Parkway would deliver up to an additional 4,500 homes rather than the 9000 figure quoted in the Wessex report.
The Wessex report adds: “Thanet Parkway has a key role to play in kick starting this virtuous circle by stimulating net immigration to Thanet, which will boost demand for new homes. “With the right supporting interventions this will gather pace and give confidence to homebuilders to invest in Thanet.”
Nearby developments include sites in Cliffsend, Spitfire Green and Manston Green.
The project has faced opposition from numerous district and county councillors who say the isle already has seven stations and does not need another, unmanned one.
There have been questions over passenger safety at an unmanned station and the danger of more building on agricultural land due to the expectation of the station creating demand for new homes.
County Councillor Karen Constantine said: “Since being voted onto Kent County Council in 2017 I have repeatedly called for the monstrously expensive decision to open Thanet Parkway to be reviewed.
“It didn’t make sense prior to Covid to open another railway station on Thanet in Cliffsend. It made even less sense post Covid when we knew working patterns had been irrevocably changed. The days of commuting five days a week up and down to London are gone, technology and personal choice favour a hybrid or home-based approach to working. Which is often better for both the individual and the environment.
“Despite my questions and concerns I have never received a cogent response that justifies this multi million pound mistake. Nor any evidence for it. It appears to be a white elephant project, a super expensive folly imposed on one the poorest communities in Kent. And whilst I appreciate you can’t simply move the budgets dedicated to this project around, it is £44 million wasted.
“It’s little more than a political smokescreen to disguise the fundamental lack of an economic regeneration plan for Thanet. Despite Craig Mackinlay MP tweeting that, it’s needed ‘to complete the regeneration of Thanet and east Kent.’ It’s a monument to the utterly lack-lustre, uncaring, unimaginative ruling Conservatives.
“It’s hard to see any benefits this station brings. Thanet certainly didn’t require an eighth railway station and it’s not impossible to believe that this station might herald cuts in the services to Ramsgate station.”
Cllr Constantine says she fears passengers who will have to drive to Thanet Parkway will also be at risk because it is unmanned and “clearly isolated.”
She added: “The people of Ramsgate are actually getting, longer journey times, higher overall travel costs, more pollution, more traffic clogging the roads and are possibly subject to avoidable risk! Not exactly a great return for £44 million.”
David Davidson, Network Rail’s Kent route director, said: “The opening of this station is testament to the collaborative working relationship between our partners and Thanet Parkway will play a central role in helping boost the local economy and support tourism by providing connections to a wide range of leisure destinations.
“I look forward to seeing the first passengers using Thanet Parkway and would like to thank the many colleagues involved who have worked so hard with our partners in opening this new station.”