Formation of the Wealden Line Campaign. Its objective – to reverse the continuing degrading of the Uckfield line by reinstating main line connections to the South Coast via Lewes and to Kent via Tunbridge Wells. This would include third-rail electrification.
WLC believes time is right, following the launch of ‘Network South East’ under the wing of BR, to begin developing and improving the rail system in the South East feeding into London.
The WLC aimed to show how important the link could be to the overall network.
Attempts are made to enlist support from East Sussex County Council (ESCC); however, its County Engineer tells Brian Hart “The option to reinstate the railway between Lewes and Uckfield is no longer feasible and I have, therefore, to advise you that the County Council cannot assist you in your aims”. ESCC planning department also says WLC’s objectives are “unrealistic” and “in conflict with the County Council’s current stance”. ESCC wants Uckfield station moved across the High Street and its level crossing (on the Lewes side) abolished.
The end of the line at Uckfield where the threat of absorbing the trackbed into the industrial estate had to be fought by the WLC.
Following pressure from WLC on councillors, Wealden District Council defers a planning decision on allowing Bellbrook Industrial Estate to build over trackbed.
WLC asks Sainsburys to work with NSE in developing new station at Tunbridge Wells West on reopened Tunbridge Wells-Brighton/London Victoria route.
WLC puts on public exhibitions at Uckfield, Brighton, Crowborough, Tunbridge Wells, Lewes and Edenbridge.
Public respond in droves to sign petitions in support of the scheme.
Even Network South East began using the name ‘Wealden Line’ on its brochures!
WLC invited to discuss proposals with NSE’s Director Chris Green at Waterloo.
Chris Green makes private visit to Uckfield to meet Brian Hart and tours Lewes link. Subsequently he offers £1.5m towards reopening Lewes-Uckfield line (costed at £6m for single-line, unelectrified and hourly service) if East Sussex and Kent county councils jointly contribute £4.5m. At joint meeting organized by Wealden MP Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith, both councils refuse funding. Afterwards, a NSE manager tells Hart councils “only interested in building bypasses around piddling little villages”.
Croydon – Oxted – East Grinstead line electrified, Uckfield branch remains diesel.
WLC meets Jimmy Knapp, General Secretary of National Union of Railwaymen which gives its full backing to WLC proposals.
Sainsburys agree not to build across trackbed at Tunbridge Wells.
ESCC begins work on its latest village bypass costing £4.5m.
Commuters condemn Uckfield line as the “Worst line in Western Europe”. BR denies line is being run down for closure and says it could be electrified by 1992. However, ESCC says it does not want expenditure on coastal road and rail improvement to the Channel Tunnel to be diverted to the Lewes-Uckfield line. Its Structure Plan says: “It is not in the County Council’s current strategic transport interest that transport funds should be diverted to the reopening of the Lewes-Uckfield line as this might be at the expense of projects of greater importance to the County Council”.
A Lewes district councillor, Norman Baker, defends reopening Lewes-Uckfield line.
WLC suggests singling Lewes-Newhaven section and relaying the line to Uckfield to create new continuous Seaford/Newhaven – London line to maximise revenue and assets. Chris Green calls the cost-effective idea “intriguing”.
Wealden District planners claim “false hopes” are being raised over reopening the line to Lewes. Commuters continue deserting the Uckfield line in droves and railheading instead to electric services on Hastings and Brighton main lines.
Wealden MP describes Uckfield line as “a national joke” after derogatory cartoons had appeared in The Sun and the London Evening News. Because of its deteriorating condition with 30 and 20mph restrictions in places, BR announces it will soon partially single the Uckfield line to save £1m on renewing its deteriorating double track. WLC strongly opposes scheme, fearing a head-on collision after meeting similarly concerned BR signalling engineer involved in its implementation who predicted this would occur south of Hever. A ‘BR spokesman’ criticized WLC for being alarmist and told press “Safety is our prime concern. There will be no danger whatsoever”.
Meanwhile, WLC fights to prevent industrial estate developers building on trackbed at Uckfield during 3-day hearing following a planning appeal.
ESCC continues to list the disbenefits of reopening the link: “frustration of development at Uckfield”; “competition for existing bus services”; “high capital cost”; “disturbance to people and countryside”; “diversion of funds better spent on other transport proposals”.
Buxted looking towards Uckfield in 1989. This station would be reduced to one platform with the rationalization of the line.
WLC attempts to raise profile of Seaford/Newhaven – London corridor as a new fast main line (left).
WLC launches a leaflet campaign in numerous towns, including Tunbridge Wells shown here (right), to try raising public awareness and appreciation of rail network.
The systematic destruction of the former main line between London Victoria and Tunbridge Wells is well-illustrated here at Groombridge (left) - in 1971, 1989 and 2005.
An early Wealden Line Campaign leaflet
Above: Two early posters promoting the Wealden Line Campaign