Opinion with Christine Tongue: Thanet Parkway, the Minister and me

Christine explores Thanet Parkway Photo Hilary Chuter

Remember when we had an airport? It was called London Manston for a couple of wildly optimistic years. It needs a station, someone thought, so people can actually get here from London. It was to be called Manston Parkway. Oh, how we laughed.

When the airport went, the optimists still thought a station would still be a bright idea. So after huge amounts of public funding, more than £40 million,  and much opposition – what was it FOR? – it got built.

Originally planned with no loos, no ticket office, and no staff, the first station to be built in Thanet in nearly 100 years was designed to be spartan and minimalist. And to welcome cars.

Photo Hilary Chuter

It opened to passengers in July, fuss was made about the missing elements, a lot of backtracking took place by Southeastern – toilets rapidly produced, state of the art ticket machines and a promise of staff to help out puzzled customers.

The station was launched officially on Friday 8th September with a huge shindig in the carpark involving a marquee, a choir, local kids’ paintings, free food, goody bags for all and the political elite of Kent.

Photo Hilary Chuter

Plus the transport minister, Huw Merriman, a name to conjure hobbits or at least Robin Hood, and bring a smile to everyone’s face.  Except perhaps Craig Mackinlay, who introduced the minister as someone who had entered parliament the same time as him, but had scooted up the ministerial ladder, whereas Craig is still lingering at the bottom.

All the suits (only Thanet council leader Rick Everitt had the sense to take his jacket off in the sweltering heat) thought it would bring prosperity and business to east Kent and affordable housing.

They were all very proud of the station’s accessibility. My friend Hilary drove me there with sticks and wheelchair to join the fun and check out how good it actually is.

She parked me and the wheelchair in the shade and I talked to the minister about accessibility. He was very proud of how brilliant the place was for disabled people. Step free, everything sign posted, braille on the handrails and lift buttons, tactile paving “for way finding”, shelters, a defibrillator, a hearing loop for people with deaf aids. He was thrilled with it all.

I made some feeble joke about blind people finding their way after driving there but he forged enthusiastically on. A blind member of my disability group I spoke to later said it was all rubbish. How was he supposed to find the lift buttons if no-one took him there in the first place?

Photo Hilary Chuter


I asked Huw to try it all out in my wheelchair but he said he didn’t need to as he’d been shown it all by Southeastern experts. And anyhow he didn’t really believe in people sitting in wheelchairs if they weren’t actually disabled. So how is he ever to know what it’s like to be me?

We talked about policy and how policy makers could lay down rules about accessibility, but he seemed to think that was down to rail companies. But you’re the minister! I tried. Blank look. Frodo would have known what I was talking about…

Photo Hilary Chuter

Three days later me and Hilary went back. 5.30pm and the place was bleakly deserted. Toilets locked, only 20 odd cars in the carpark and the two passengers we talked to had been on a nice country walk from Minster and were on their way home to Ramsgate.

Hilary timed me walking from the lift to the designated access point where people needing help are supposed to wait. Three and a half minutes on sticks and over the textured paving and I was there! It’s a very narrow platform full of this tactile stuff (in theory for blind people) which my sense of balance found challenging.

Photo Hilary Chuter

And I can’t sit down in the shelters as the seats are narrow, low, slippery and sloping.

I tried the help points to ask about when the toilets would be open. I had to spell the name as the nice man in the call centre had never heard of Thanet Parkway.  It’s new I suggested. New database to be consulted, yes there are accessible toilets.

But when are they open? You’ll have to ask customer services. Do you have a pen? No, I’m standing on crutches in an empty station. I’ll put you through. Minutes later: “I’m sorry that number is not available” says the machine. We laugh.

But the place isn’t a laugh. It’s bleak and unwelcoming and cost an enormous amount of public money at exactly the time they’re trying to cut staff, cut their wages and cut ticket offices.

You get the feeling that somebody somewhere is being taken for a ride, but it’s not going to stop at Thanet Parkway.

Christine is a founder member of disability campaign group Access Thanet


  1. It is one of the very expensive projects, doubtless over budget, now blamed by the press for the near bankruptcy of KCC too

  2. Thanet Parkway is a complete waste of money. Why wasn’t the £’s used to..erm…I don’t know…build homeless shelters?…or maybe build more council houses?…or, I don’t know…repave Margate High Street? The Tories obviously only care about wealthy commuters to and from London, and how impressive it looks to businesses and foreign investors. It’s just incredibly poor decision making. FYI The journey is actually significantly bumpier now than it was before between Ramsgate and Sturry. It almost made me sick the other day. Not fun for commuters either!

    • Oh goodness me now whining about the journey from Ramsgate to Sturry being bumpier. At least you have a train to travel on. Get a life!

  3. Why does anyone believe for a minute that vote hungry politicians whether they are MPs or Cllrs ever know what to do and even to do it, or what is good and not good for an area. Look at the evidence backing a multiple time failed airfield, the parkway monstrosity which following 10s of millions of pounds and over budget only cuts 2 minutes off the journey to Ramsgate. I belive going forward, all MPs and Clkrs should be independently scrutinised to see what is going on in there private lives and look into their finances to explore back handers, either financially or in other contributions. Surely this much incompetence cannot be random, it must be by design for self profit.

    • Exactly Steve, that was going through my mind, an obsolete airport next to a soon to be obsolete train station, you couldn’t make it up!

  4. leaving to one side the issues with access Parkway was NEVER intended for the airport. It is a commuter station for all those new houses to relieve the pressure on Ramsgate station where you cannot park a car.

  5. I think you decided before you got there perhaps Christine that you would not like the station and you only seemed to find faults that may or not be there. I understand your disability problems, but have you tried to get to platform 4 from the main entrance at Margate?!! Dirty lifts with dirty handrails. I think really the Thanet Parkway Station is a station we should all be proud of.
    The station will be absolutely perfect for use when the state of the art Manston Cargo Airport eventually opens and in the not to distant future a passenger state of the art Airport will open with passengers commuting to and from by the very convenient High Speed Trains to London and other areas. The only improvement i would like to see is posters advertising Thanet and flowers. Have seen flowers in many other stations, perhaps in baskets to brighten up that long wall on either side used as a sound barrier, or in large tubs!!

    • Erm, no.
      Thanet Parkway will be of no use whatsoever to a cargo airport.
      And even if eventually passenger flights begin, there will still need to be a shuttle bus between the airport and the station. And any shuttle bus could better serve air passengers by ferrying them to Ramsgate, where there are more trains serving more destinations.

    • Well said John. Christine – along with Barry, Christine, Martha, Phyllis, Andrew and a few other radicals from the far left, just WANT it to fail.

    • Indeed. Commuters could call in at the airport, pick up a box of cargo and take it on the train with them. Up to London quicker than an electric barge.

    • What a load of misinformed rubbish Bade! Should by some miracle Manston re-open it will do so as a cargo hub, there will be no passengers, get your facts right! Or have you swallowed the same guff from the Chocolate Tea Pot MP for South Thanet, who tries to big up Manston, in the hope it will win him and Gale a few votes at the next General Election, don’t be so gullible ie: fooled!

    • What are they going to do with the cargo? Stick it on the seats in a Southeastern train?? This won’t be of any use for a CARGO airport.

  6. Well put Christine,I refused to go last Friday, how much did this latest junket cost taxpayers on top of the £44 million. Footfall so low they are thinking of offering 50 percent discount tickets to get passengers to use this prison camp lookalike white elephant station

  7. Bloody hell just because doesn’t suit your needs, doesn’t mean it doesn’t suit others!

    Bloody moan moan moan from the regular ones about wasting money and airports etc etc.

    Problem with this area is the negativity and that’s what stops Thanet from growing again.

    • What stopped Thanet from growing was the then TDC blocking Stone Hill Park’ superb plans for high-tech industry, recreation, housing etc at Manston in favour of RSP’s plans.
      There really could have been 1000s of well paid jobs. Instead, there’s acres of crumbling concrete and tumbleweed.

  8. a fair comment from this lady , and a lot more than we will ever get from any politician, mind you they will come out of the woodwork and promise us alsorts when they are trying to get people to vote for them. ( very soon thank christ )

  9. If you think thanet parkway is a waste of money. Well look at HS2 billions of pounds spent on this railway to save 20 minutes to Birmingham. This money could of been spent on far better schemes.

  10. A full and telling report on an horrendous money burning, environmentally damaging white elephant. Well said Christine.

      • Are you thick – why are there so many parking spaces? It’s a KCC loss leader for the Tory construction industry to transform Thanet into one enormous concrete hard standing surrounded by a giant moat filled with sewage! Where’s the ecological and environmental sense in that Ms Full Stop Pink.

        • No need for rudeness, young lady.

          My point is, surely it makes more more sense encouraging people to drive a couple of miles and then jump on a train rather than drive 50 miles? I know of at least 3 people who are now doing just that, after avoiding Ramsgate station because of its lack of parking.

          • Or even more sense if they walk/cycle to the nearest train station to where they live, or a bus to the nearest train station, instead of driving to this station which is only really accessible by car (and even that isn’t easy as it’s on one side of a dual carriageway).

  11. The pink Checksfield strikes again! Ms Pink/Checksfield says she/he knows of 3,I repeat three people that use Thanet Parkway!
    Here we have Checksfield and his reactionary pals,who constantly lecture us about alleged profligacy in the arts world boldly stating that it is OK to waste £44m on an ugly,badly designed, unstaffed halt,with no public transport links,poor modal flexibility(poor facilities for pedestrians and cyclists)and seemingly little use to those it was designed (I use that term advisedly).
    This pointless scheme is now a financial albatross for KCC, Network Rail,and Southeastern.If they remove the staff and remove the security,how long do you think it will remain operable?
    KCC is bleating about its dire financial situation,how is this going to help?
    The opportunity cost of doing something better with the money is significant.
    Thanet needs long term financial support to restructure the social, environmental and business constraints on prosperity.
    What it does not need is meddling by political pie in the sky schemes,that give the appearance of activity but instead makes things worse.
    What Thanet needs is less car dependent development, a lot more education and training,and most of all more investment in high tech ,where possible future proofed employment.Less non starter cargo airports,more aeronautical engineering,less air BnB,more good quality social housing,less Turner contemporary,more better by design.
    I don’t mind the Pink Checksfield and his mates having opinions,the more the merrier,in my view,but their thinking is out of date,and lacking in substance.
    Doing more of the same in Thanet or going back to a mythical golden era of the past, won’t work.

      • Pot calling kettle black there, Peter Checksfield. Except that I don’t think Mr Nokes ever has been “done for stalking”.

    • Do you even think at all about what you saying before you write??? “More investment in high tech” followed straight away with “where possible future proofed employment”. You realise a high tech environment removes job opportunities? Whose thinking is out of date now?

      Also let me rephrase what you have written – “What Thanet needs is less car dependent development”. Rephrased to, “As I dont drive this station doesnt benefit me, therefore lets paint Thanet with the same brush and pretend everyone wants what I want. How self centered can you be?

      What is with all the lefties trying to destroy this town

      • Of course Thanet, like everywhere else, needs less -much less- car-dependent development! The rapid improvement of public transport is what’s needed . Encouraging car use is definitely not what should be happening.

          • Who is Peter Checksfield replying to in his 2.35 comment? I haven’t noticed anyone called Martha commenting on this article-has anybody else apart from Peter Checksfield?

          • I really detest Peter Checksfield. I hope I never meet him in person. The comments by him which are aimed at me personally are making me feel I don’t want to comment on these articles any more. That is not what a comments column is for.

  12. Thanet Parkway will be here long after most of us have departed this lovely planet, it’s a very good long term investment, just a shame most of us won’t reap any of the benefits and can’t look any further ahead than our own noses.

    • Oh do spare us your continual drivel County Councillor Lewis. Maybe you need a holiday? I’m sure you could rent a room for a week say in Spain from one of your fellow Labour County Councillors.

      • Oi, Lawrence Davies, this is my column! Be nasty to me if you must but don’t attack my readers! And everyone, please comment on the issues I raise. Don’t take it as an opportunity to have a verbal pub brawl!

  13. Christine Tongue. I’ve obviously hit a raw nerve. As far as being nasty I don’t see you singling out some of your fellow travellers commenting here referring to people as ‘thick’ and other comments. I’m sure if I had said a Tory Councillor was talking drivel you wouldn’t have said a word! By the way spelling of my first name is a u not an w.

  14. When Ebbsfleet opened the same disingenuous comments were plastered all over the media, 10 years on it is a thriving station supporting a thriving community. The line it sits on is only an hour to London, folk on the North Kent line will start using it. The other point is it is there now, what exactly will moaning achieve? Finally politicians will use anything to further their cause, just remember these are from TDC where a few years ago they changed parties to suit, even further back on was sent to jail. You shouldn’t put too much credence on their words.

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