Council calls on Government to strip Southern and Thameslink franchises

Preston Park station (Photograph: Eddie Mitchell)
Preston Park station (Photograph: Eddie Mitchell)

A call to bring the Thameslink and Southern rail franchises back into public ownership won the unanimous backing of Brighton and Hove City Council.

A Green Party amendment to a Conservative motion led to the unexpected vote.

With an email inbox full of complaints about the poor service from Preston Park station, Patcham Conservative councillor Geoffrey Theobald proposed the original motion.

He wanted to know how Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) had made its decision to cut the number of services at Preston Park and he called for a timetable to help commuters.

Speaking at the full council meeting at Hove Town Hall on Thursday (July 19), Cllr Theobald said: “Preston Park is a station we as a highways authority should encourage people to use.

“People can walk to Preston Park from the area or take the bus and take the car to avoid going through Preston Circus and the Seven Dials and avoid snarling up Brighton station.”

Cllr Theobald said that he had no issue catching the train early in the morning but had more trouble coming back.

He described the frustration of changing trains at Haywards Heath or East Croydon to get back to Preston Park station.

His motion was seconded by Withdean Conservative councillor Nick Taylor, a frequent commuter to London.

Cllr Taylor said: “I pay £5,500 for a season ticket to spend eight to ten hours a week going to London to work and study.

“One of the benefits is I have time to answer my email. Preston Park is a lifeline and I’ve heard all the excuses.”

Related stories: Rail commuters at ‘wits’ end’ over cuts to Preston Park services

Preston Park Green councillor Leo Littman put forward an amendment asking Transport Secretary Chris Grayling to strip GTR of its Thameslink and Southern franchises and return them to public hands.

The amendment was unanimously agreed by the whole chamber, much to the pleasure and amusement of Labour and Green councillors.

Cllr Littman’s amendment also called for no gaps of more than 15 minutes between trains at peak times and an analysis of services at all Brighton and Hove stations.

He said: “We need an analysis of all the city’s railway stations to ensure travellers at Preston Park get to work on time and people travelling from Hove do not have to stand all the way to London.”

Preston Park Labour councillor Julie Cattell expressed her surprise at the Conservative motion, saying that she had worked closely with Cllr Littman and the community on a petition to improve services.

She pointed out to the council that she had seen email responses from Conservatives saying there was little that they could do.

Cllr Cattell added how pressure from the chair of the council’s environment, transport and sustainability committee, Labour councillor Gill Mitchell, resulted in two extra trains stopping at Preston Park during the evening rush hour.

Cllr Cattell said: “This is great news and shows how we can have an impact at local level.

“It’s a pity you didn’t come to us earlier Cllr Theobald. You have, this time, missed the train.”

The motion asks council chief executive Geoff Raw to write to GTR chief operating officer Nick Brown, Network Rail route manager John Halsall and Rail Minister Jo Johnson.

The details requested are: the decision-making process into service reduction resulting in the timetable that came into effect on Sunday, May 20; a timetable allowing more frequent trains; improvement of first class facilities; analysis of use of Brighton and Hove’s railway stations; swift compensation for passengers affected by disruption; and stripping GTR of its Thameslink and Southern franchises and returning them to public ownership.

Sarah Booker-Lewis is the Local Democracy Reporter for Brighton & Hove.

For more of her stories, click here.