Urgent Telephone 4pm - 8.30am : 01233 331111

Business leaders join over 50,000 residents in calling for Eurostar services to return

Published: 15/04/2024
Eurostar train

Over 53,000 people have signed a petition calling for the return of Eurostar services. They join hundreds of business leaders, representing thousands of employees, who have responded to a survey calling for views on the lack of international rail services stopping in Kent.

The campaign petition began in March 2023, and one year later, it has reached this significant milestone and continues to gather support, with business leaders joining local authorities, MPs and other partners who look after Kent’s interests in all calling for their return.

Bring Back Euro Trains (BBET) marked the first-year anniversary of the petition with a webinar on Wednesday 20 March 2024 to update residents on what has been done to date to help facilitate the return of the Eurostar. The event included speakers Andrew Osborne from Ashford Borough Council, MP Damian Green and Michael Williams from Better Transport.

A spokesperson for BBET said: “We were delighted with the progress of the petition and the interest the webinar generated; demonstrating the continued concern among people locally to get back our international train services. Many speakers confirmed the vital importance for businesses to have access to international trains for their businesses to thrive here in Kent.”

Damian Green said it was a key task “to make clear to the British Government just how important the Kent stations are to the wider economic growth in the 2nd most profitable region of the UK economy, namely the South East.”

We recognise that all transport operators face huge uncertainty in-advance of the implementation of new EU entry and exit system (EES) in October 2024. But Michael Robson questioned whether the extra staff were recruited and trained to meet the pressures.

BBET was buoyed by the optimism from speakers that services will return, if not from Eurostar but competitors.  A recording of the webinar can be viewed below. 

If you would like to see the Eurostar trains servicing our Kent International stations again please sign the online petition.

99% of Kent businesses call for international rail services to return

A survey with business representatives operating in Kent and the wider region received around 530 responses with 99% calling for a return to services. This represents over 30,000 employees, demonstrating the economic importance of international rail to this county and the wider country.

In October 2023, KCC, supported by Ashford Borough Council and Dartford Borough Council, launched the business survey to understand the impact international rail services not calling in Kent is having on trade. The survey ran for three months, closing in January 2024.

Further work will now be completed to understand the full range of views, so a case can be built with the aim of persuading operators and government to get back on track in what is the Channel Tunnel’s 30th anniversary year.

Campaign also reaches House of Commons

Ashford MP Damian Green instigated a debate in the House of Commons last year on international rail services in Kent. This received support from Minister of State for Rail at the Department for Transport Huw Merriman, and MPs from across Kent, East Sussex and South London to find a resolution as well as a commitment to work alongside his officials on their return.

“I am delighted that the campaign has hit this milestone. We all need to carry on convincing Eurostar and other potential operators that there is a huge pent-up demand to use Ashford Station for International Services. I am in contact with the Rail Minister about this on a regular basis.”

Business community viewpoint

Mattias Thraen, Plant General Manager at Coty Manufacturing UK

"As the manufacturing site for cosmetics serving the EMEA region (Europe, the Middle East and Africa), and with head offices located in Amsterdam and Paris, the restoration of the international rail link to Ashford will be a key enabler for our business.”

Duncan Callow, Managing Director, Indicator FL Memo Ltd (Indicator is part of the Lefebvre Sarrut publishing group and has been producing advice and solutions relating to tax, HR, health, safety and the environment and compliance issues for nearly 90 years).

“It’s difficult to overstate the impact the loss of Eurostar services has had on our business. We’re a truly European company with headquarters in Brussels and Paris – in fact the very reason we located to Ashford 25 years ago was for its excellent connectivity with those cities.

“Now, face to face contact with colleagues and senior management is almost non-existent. In the past one of us would be hopping on at Ashford every two weeks or so but now the cost in actual terms plus lost time are prohibitive. For younger staff it’s particularly impactful. They are missing out on exposure to group culture and training opportunities - which are most effective through face-to-face meetings. For them to go to Paris now means travel to London, an overnight stay in a hotel and the loss of two days. Because they are missing out on group integration, we risk losing them to competitors so there’s potentially a double loss there.

“We have also lost group investment in Ashford. Due to the lack of contact and the opportunity to forge real relationships, we’ve been ‘out of sight and out mind’. In turn this has resulted in us being overlooked for funding opportunities. Our group CEO is coming to visit us in May, the first time in more than four years. It’s taken months to fix a date because he too will have to take more time out of his agenda due to the need to travel via London.”

Tudor Price, Chief Executive of Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce

“With the online petition now surpassing fifty thousand signatures and continuing to grow, it must now be beyond doubt to both Government and Eurostar, that the demand for services to resume in Kent is significant. Businesses that we represent have been unequivocal about the impact the lack of international services is having on their business, their staff and the wider supply chain.

“The local and national economy needs Government and stakeholders to be unlocking opportunities for foreign investment and the resumption of international services to Kent has a major part to play in realising those opportunities. Several large manufacturing employers struggle to explain to their EU Finance Directors, why they have to travel to London and then get a train back to the station they passed, to visit their site. Impressions matter, especially if millions of pounds of investment is being sought.

“With so much of the infrastructure already in place, Eurostar and the Government would be pushing against an open door. Moreover, with the forthcoming introduction of the EU Entry and Exit System at ports, the need to maximise available points of departure will be critical to mitigate the impact of traffic queues on the Kent economy. We should not let this opportunity to plan and prepare, pass us by.”

Deirdre Wells OBE, CEO of Visit Kent

“Quite simply, the loss of the international rail connection means less international visitors and less spend for visitor economy businesses in Kent.

“We know from our research that there is a strong appetite amongst international visitors to come to the county as we have a huge amount to offer such as our world famous attractions, stunning landscapes and flourishing vineyards but asking people to travel to London then back to Kent and back again to London to travel home or on to their next destination when itineraries are often time restricted is going to be a deterrent.

“Furthermore, at a time when we should be encouraging train travel as much as possible – the loss of this rail connection is not helpful to meet our goal of low carbon travel.”

Liz Gibney, Chair of the Kent and Medway Economic Partnership

“As the Local Economic Growth Board for Kent & Medway, the Kent and Medway Economic Partnership is very concerned about the ongoing lack of international rail services stopping in Kent and the impacts upon communities and businesses in the county. The significant investment of public money into the international rail infrastructure is now not being utilised and the promised benefits to offset the disruption caused locally when the railway line was constructed in Kent have disappeared.

“Businesses in the county are missing out on opportunities to engage with customers from the continent and European business travel is considerably more complex and time consuming than it should be. Kent’s visitor economy businesses are suffering with reduced revenues and investment opportunities in the county are being lost. It is vital for Kent & Medway’s economy that international rail services are reinstated at Ebbsfleet and Ashford as soon as possible.

“The services from the Kent stations were promised as the benefit from all the disruption caused by building the line. In that sense this is a breach of a social contract made with the people, communities and businesses of Kent.”

Local authorities’ views

Leader of Ashford Borough Council, Cllr Noel Ovenden

“Rail services at Ashford International Station are not only important for existing businesses and travellers, but they are also important for our future commercial investments.

“Significant investment has been made over the last 25 years in infrastructure to ensure international services are able to operate to support business and leisure travel to Europe, so it is imperative that the benefits of this investment are realised through services returning. With the valuable support of local residents and businesses, we will continue our fight to bring Eurostar services back.”

Leader of Dartford Borough Council, Jeremy Kite

“It’s vital that international rail services return to Ebbsfleet and Ashford. We need this unique infrastructure to get back up and running in Kent.”

Kent County Council’s Cabinet Member for Economic Development, Derek Murphy

“Reinstating direct international passenger services to and from the continent will benefit local businesses and residents. The many local businesses that contribute to Kent’s visitor economy have always welcomed customers and visitors from mainland Europe. However, without trains from Paris, Lille, Calais, Brussels and Amsterdam stopping in Kent, overseas visitor numbers have decreased. The sector has been through a very challenging time recently and lost revenue from international visitors has not helped Kent’s businesses.

“The county is also losing out on opportunities for inward investment. Without the international trains stopping in the county Kent has lost its unique selling point of two excellent international stations. Many firms chose to locate near Ashford or Ebbsfleet to take advantage of direct rail services for staff and clients but having to travel to and from St Pancras not only makes business trips more difficult but reduces productivity.”