This email is being sent to all candidates standing for election to the IW Council in in the wards on the Island Line route (Ryde through to Shanklin, along with Wroxall and Ventnor, given the rail/bus link).
We are writing to you as a candidate standing in <<Ward>> for election to the Isle of Wight Council on 4th May.
As you will be aware, the future of our local train service – Island Line – has been the subject of much debate over the past two years, and we (KILF) have been at the forefront of efforts to secure its retention in the wider South Western Rail Franchise.
KILF was formed in August 2015 in response to increasing public concern that Island Line could be removed from the wider franchise – which was confirmed the following month when the Department for Transport (DfT) announced the Government’s intention to see Island Line become a “separate and self-sustaining business”.
We strongly believe that Island Line’s long-term viability is best served by the service being an integral, full part of the wider franchise operation – thereby securing the professional input of a major train operator, benefitting from economies of scale and being part of the national rail network.
This view is shared by the Isle of Wight Council, with councillors having voted twice (in September 2015 and March 2016) to support Island Line being retained in the wider franchise, and in doing so rejecting the alternative of it being run as a standalone service (which could put its long-term viability at risk).
In August 2016, we scored a major victory when – following our threat to the Government of a Judicial Review challenge – the DfT dropped their proposals to make Island Line a “self-sustaining business”; instead saying that it merely had to be “more sustainable”, which we can all agree on. However, in their response, the Government made clear that Island Line could still be removed from the wider franchise at some point during the next franchise period.
Fast forward to the end of last month (March), and the DfT announced the award of the next South Western Rail Franchise (commencing in August 2017) to First Group MTR, replacing the incumbent operator (Stagecoach). That announcement stated that the new contract with require the new franchisee to “work with the Isle of Wight Council and other local bodies to develop a business plan and option for a more sustainable long-term future”, which keeps the door open on the possibility of Island Line being removed from the wider franchise in the ensuing years.
From our perspective, we are concerned at the uncertainty which Island Line still faces, but we very much welcome the subsequent communication from First Group MTR that they will bring forward an “exciting package of proposals to discuss with the Isle of Wight community”, including options for:
More modern rolling stock;
More modern signalling and a new passing loop to allow for a regular half hourly timetable to give far better connections across the Solent;
An earlier service from Shanklin.
However, First Group MTR has made clear that such proposed investments would be put to the DfT early next year (2018) as a “costed option” – i.e. the Government will have to decide whether to support such proposed investment, at a cost to the taxpayer (such as a reduced premium payment from the franchisee). If the DfT does support these proposals from First Group MTR, it will almost certainly secure Island Line’s future in the wider franchise, and improve the service at the same time. That is why we welcome the new franchisee’s intentions in this regard.
Given that the Isle of Wight Council has been identified by the Government as a key stakeholder in the future of Island Line, the role of elected members in the next council term (2017 to 2021) will be crucial in ensuring a sustainable future for Island Line. In addition, First Group MTR has said that they will “work with Islanders and their local representatives to develop a viable future for the line” – so the role of IW Councillors will also be crucial in this respect.
We have identified that some election candidates (of different parties and none) have written about Island Line in their campaign literature. In light of this, we thought it would be helpful to our supporters (1,600+) to ask all candidates in the wards on the Island Line route (Ryde through to Shanklin, along with Wroxall and Ventnor, given the rail/bus link) to declare their position on Island Line – so there can be transparency as to what stance will be taken post-election, if elected.
KILF has enjoyed cross-party support – in (a) its Steering Committee; (b) its wider supporters; and (c) in the two resolutions at Full Council in 2015 and 2016, securing chamber-wide consensus. We hope that this can continue now, in the election campaign, and crucially during the next council term.
We would therefore be grateful if you could respond to this email, letting us know whether, if elected for <<Ward>>, you will:
Advocate Island Line being retained in the wider South Western Rail Franchise, and as part of the national rail network.
Urge the IW Council’s post-election leadership to make representations to the DfT in support of this objective, including asking the Government to support First Group MTR’s plans for much-needed investment in Island Line, thereby securing its future in the wider franchise.
We will be publishing the responses received to this email on KILF’s Facebook page from this coming Thursday (20th April) onwards, so please let us have your reply in the coming days.
We will also circulate an update to our mailing list letting our supporters know what responses have been received.
If you have any questions please get in touch with us.
THE KILF CAMPAIGN
(Steering Committee: Stewart Blackmore, Ed Gouge, David Pugh, Chris Quirk) firstname.lastname@example.org