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Cambridge South railway station approved despite campaign concerns

A new £184million Cambridge South railway station will be built after plans were approved by the Department for Transport (DfT).

It has granted a Transport and Works Act Order (TWAO) to Network Rail to construct the new station at Cambridge Biomedical Campus.

What the Cambridge South station could look like Picture: Network Rail
What the Cambridge South station could look like Picture: Network Rail

South Cambridgeshire MP Anthony Browne said it was “good to see it confirmed”, adding: “It is something I have been pushing hard for with government.”

The DfT considered a planning inspector’s report, which noted the impact that construction of the station would have, including to nearby Hobson’s Park.

But it determined that this was outweighed by the benefits of enabling rail travel to the fast-growing campus – which is home to Addenbrooke’s, the Rosie and Royal Papworth hospitals, plus a host of research institutes and a growing array of life sciences businesses, including AstraZeneca and Abcam.

The new station, which Network Rail has said could be built by 2026, is expected to connect the campus with destinations such as London, London Stansted Airport, Ely and Birmingham. If the East West Rail project proceeds as expected, services from Bedford to Cambridge are also likely to stop at the new station.

The DfT said it was granting permission as the Cambridge South scheme will “significantly contribute to sustainable transport, support rail connections regionally, encourage modal shift and support the development of environmentally-sustainable transport in Cambridge, thereby contributing to broader environmental benefits such as transport decarbonisation”.

It adds: “The scheme would also reinforce the role of the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, contributing to its further growth and sustainability.”

The inspector and DfT did not agree with concerns expressed by transport campaigners that the station would be far too small to meet demand and that there was limited room for expansion.

The decision authorises Network Rail to construct a new Cambridge South station and related trackworks, junction improvements at Shepreth branch junction, and a new connection between existing lines at Hills Road.

The decision documents include the full planning inspector’s report, published following a public inquiry into the new station, which was held in February and March this year.

The site of Cambridge South railway station on Cambridge Biomedical Campus Picture: Keith Heppell
The site of Cambridge South railway station on Cambridge Biomedical Campus Picture: Keith Heppell

The inspector concluded that the station will have a “beneficial effect on traffic”, with Network Rail predicting that the new station will remove 858 daily vehicle movements from the local road network by 2031.

But the inspector and transport secretary Mark Harper acknowledged that the construction and operation of the station will cause “significant harm” to Hobson’s Park, which is adjacent to the west of the proposed development and rail alignment.

However, these effects will be temporary and partially reversible, and it is deemed that these issues would be outweighed by the scheme’s “very considerable public benefits”.

There will be a permanent loss of land within Hobson’s Park of 20,439 square metres. However, 20,840 square metres of land will be provided to the south of the park in exchange.

“The inspector concludes that there would be a significant adverse effect on Hobson’s Park, considering the station’s visual impact, the railway systems compound, cycle parking, tree removal and the emergency footbridge, and that the removal of trees would add to the harm to the park’s character and appearance,” the decision statement said.

It is predicted that the scheme will see the loss of about 0.26ha of mature trees, 0.45ha of broadleaved plantation woodland and, during construction, the significant loss of habitat for birds. There will be a mandatory biodiversity net gain of 10 per cent, though this will be off site.

Other mitigation actions will be taken to minimise the disruption of habitats and the planning inspector and secretary of state agreed that the scheme would not lead to to significant harm to biodiversity overall.

Edward Leigh, of Smarter Cambridge Transport (SCT), told the planning inquiry the proposed station was not big enough to cope with future demand, fuelled by rapid jobs growth on the campus and in the area.

The transport campaign group raised concerns about the limited scope for expansion at the station, which it suggests could need to cater for anything up to nine million passengers in a couple of decades.

Smarter Cambridge Transport- Edward Leigh. Picture: Keith Heppell
Smarter Cambridge Transport- Edward Leigh. Picture: Keith Heppell

The inspector stated that Network Rail’s use of a DfT modelling method calculated two million passengers per year would use the station compared with the nine million passengers predicted by SCT.

“The inspector considered that there was no substantive basis to indicate that NR’s modelling is flawed and found SCT’s modelled passenger numbers implausibly high compared to other stations,” the decision statement said, adding that the scheme had been tested for up to six million passengers per year.

The development of the station building cannot begin until full details of the scale, massing and external appearance, including details of floor and roof plans, elevations, and long sections of the development have been submitted to and approved in writing by the local planning authority.

While the creation of a new station at the site gathered widespread support, there were initially high-profile objections to the specific plans, including from AstraZeneca, the University of Cambridge and the Medical Research Council, which runs the Laboratory of Molecular Biology on the site, relating to the impact on existing infrastructure, the effect on sensitive equipment at research buildings and land acquisition. However, these concerns were overcome during discussions with Network Rail and the objections were withdrawn.

It is expected to cost £183.6million to deliver the new station and related infrastructure.

Network Rail is expected to replace two level crossings with a new accommodation bridge, create a new railway systems compound with a substation, signalling and telecommunications, create the supporting drainage works, hard and soft landscaping and the ancillary infrastructure such as fencing, lighting and electrical connections.

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