Ebbsfleet, gateway to Europe

Fast track to Europe: Government finds extra pounds 140m for high-speed scheme and promises new services from north and Midlands
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AT THE far end of Swanscombe High Street is Galley Hill viewing point - a ledge with a barrier, the kind you would expect to find at a scenic spot in the Lake District. Below are factories, warehouses, chimneys and waste land, with the Thames as a backdrop.

Hardly one of Britain's famously beautiful landscapes but one which is being transformed into the gateway to Europe now that the Channel Tunnel rail link is to be built.

The new International Domestic Passenger Station - one of the largest private-sector initiatives of recent times in the UK - is to open in 2003. Adjacent will be Bluewater, the largest shopping centre in Europe, due to open next spring, possibly a major leisure development with ski slopes and a casino, and as many as 13,000 new homes.

Not that it matters to the local villagers - or so they think. "My personal viewpoint is that it's not going to affect us," said Ketan Patel, sub- postmaster in Swanscombe.

"If anything, it's going to help us that Ebbsfleet is so close. You know what people are like if they've got an hour and a half to wait, wandering round, seeing what's in the area," he said,

Barbara Gunner, who owns Barb's Sandwich Bar next door, agreed. "We could do with a bit of business," she said.

Mike Crosby, an independent Dartford borough councillor representing Galley Hill in Swanscombe, seemed to be the only person in the High Street yesterday who had reservations about the impact of the massive developments on his doorstep. "Everything is happening in this little one-mile corridor between the A2 and the river. Nobody seems concerned. Everyone's been on a high, hyping it. I don't think anyone's given serious thought to the traffic generation ... It's already a nightmare, but soon traffic will be everywhere."