The Tory leadership race has had us all glued to our television screens. Or has it? Thank goodness for the Lionesses. Who cares if Liz Truss wears cheap earrings or Rishi Sunak an expensive suit? People already working two shifts in the local supermarket or distribution centre just to get by now face inflation-busting heating bills this winter. As the outgoing Prime Minister plays games, we just want the country run properly. Someone! Anyone!
In recent days, one of the arguments made for leaving the European Union has come, quite literally, to a grinding halt as cars full of families and children sit for hours backed up the M20 waiting to get into Dover. When they said they’d make our borders stronger, we thought the idea was to stop people getting into the country, not out of it.
At the same time, lorries loaded with goods travelling in either direction face their own hours of waiting. And along the coast at Folkestone, the Eurotunnel, served by the High Speed 1 railway line (HS1), processes 1.1 million metric tons of cargo it can barely handle.
There is an answer to these problems available which as well as easing those existing pressures would bring many other benefits, if only the government would get its act together. In Barking & Dagenham, whose council I lead, we have one of Britain’s best-kept secrets: a rail terminus with the potential to become an international one connecting many areas of the country with not only the continent but also parts of Asia and Africa.
This terminus, Barking Eurohub, (pictured) is next to the A13 right in the middle of the borough and has been underused for years. Yet it already connects to HS1, which is not used overnight or on Sundays. HS1 also links to the Thames Freeport, which came into operation last autumn and sits alongside the Ford engine plant.
With the right upgrades and organisation, there is scope for utilising these facilities and rail infrastructure in east London to shift much of the burden of processing freight from Port of Dover and the Eurotunnel, make Barking & Dagenham part of an international rail network, and draw investment to the Fords site, which could and should be a magnet for skills and innovation in green technology. There is potential for more than 21,000 new jobs and £1.5 billion in new port infrastructure.
An expanded rail terminus would also allow London’s three iconic food markets – Billingsgate, New Spitalfields and Smithfields, which will move to Dagenham in the next few years – to be served by rail and make London’s food supply more sustainable. Since Brexit I have written to the Prime Minister – not once, but twice – to make the case for the necessary investment, to no avail. We need his successor and the relevant ministers to step up to the plate.
Darren Rodwell is Leader of Barking & Dagenham Council. Follow Darren on Twitter.
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