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East West Rail land interest surveys leave Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire residents fearing for future of their homes

Letters from East West Rail Company (EWR Co) seeking information about land ownership and usage have left residents fearing they will be forced from their homes.

Suspecting and some unsuspecting residents across Cambridgeshire have received Land Interest Questionnaires (LIQs) from the rail company in the post.

East West Rail drop-in event at the Gradauate. Picture: Keith Heppell
East West Rail drop-in event at the Gradauate. Picture: Keith Heppell

The LIQs are designed to give EWR Co up-to-date information about land ownership, occupation and usage, but have come “completely out of the blue” for many, especially those living in Cambridge.

Elizabeth Swan, 71, of Lucerne Close, Cherry Hinton, said she had no idea of the plans when the envelope came through her door on a Saturday morning.

Since then Elizabeth, who owns her property, has “cried most days” because she “worked so hard to pay the mortgage off” and does not want to move.

“It sounded like they were after my flat, that’s what concerns me,” she said. “It had this big, long questionnaire with it, wanting to know everything about my flat. There were all sorts of personal questions and I was so worried about it all weekend and there was nobody I could ring because it was the weekend.”

Elizabeth, whose home backs on to the current railway line out of Cambridge station, got to speak with someone after five attempts and was told that her flat might not be at risk, but it could be that the rail traffic near her home will increase.

“Why do you need to know if there’s a mortgage on this property?” Elizabeth, a nurse who previously worked at Papworth and Addenbrooke’s hospitals, asked. She was told it “might be” because freight trains could be using the route.

She told the Cambridge Independent: “Occasionally, maybe twice a year if that, we do get freight trains that come down and it shakes the entire building. There’s no way that you could possibly sleep through that at all. It wouldn’t be viable to live here – you just couldn’t. It would affect my mental and physical health.”

Elizabeth Swan with her EWR land letter marking her property and allocated parking place. Picture: Keith Heppell
Elizabeth Swan with her EWR land letter marking her property and allocated parking place. Picture: Keith Heppell

Elizabeth says she was told that EWR Co would buy her house or possibly install a sound barrier, if that was the case.

“So the choice would be to stay there and let it affect my health or let East West Rail buy my property and effectively make me homeless because if they paid me the going rate for my flat, I would not be able to afford another flat in Cambridge.”

She added: “The communication is awful. It’s already affecting my physical and mental health because I’ve been in tears. My flat may only be little, but I’ve spent a lot of time on it. This is not something I bought for an investment and if I had to move, I wouldn’t get another mortgage.

“In the back of your mind, you’re thinking about what’s going to happen and will I have to move? It’s horrible and the worst thing is East West Rail doesn’t seem to care.”

East West Rail, which will connect Oxford to Cambridge via new stations at Cambourne and Tempsford, near St Neots, is intended to form a crucial part of boosting the Oxford Cambridge Arc. It will be delivered in three stages, Oxford-Milton Keynes, Oxford-Bedford and Oxford-Cambridge.

Karl Dembicki, 53, of Fulbourn Old Drift, inherited his childhood home where he hoped to live for the rest of his life. He contacted the rail company after receiving the questionnaire and “got a very generic response”.

“There’s been no prior communication, no consultation, nothing for the project,” Karl told the Cambridge Independent.

East West Rail drop-in event at the Graduate. Picture: Keith Heppell
East West Rail drop-in event at the Graduate. Picture: Keith Heppell

EWR Co’s proposed route includes the creation of two additional East West Rail tracks on the existing West Anglia mainline between the Shepreth Branch Junction and Long Road bridge. Between Long Road and Cambridge station throat, the existing three tracks would be increased to four. At Cambridge station, platforms would be extended, and a new island platform created.

Mr Dembicki continued: “Your life has been put on hold and what I do know is that they want to dual the track, but I always thought that was going to be a long way down the line.”

Freight services already run on sections of the proposed East West Rail route in Oxford and Bedford, which the new line will need to support. EWR Co says it is currently in the process of determining what the likely future demand for rail freight will be.

“I don’t think Cambridge has woken up to what this really means,” said Mr Dembicki, a solicitor in London. “When we first moved here in 1976 with the old heavy diesel trains, every time one went past, the house would shake and there are still cracks in the garage walls from back then. And as trains have improved and are quieter you don’t notice it but occasionally when an old freight train goes through, usually in the middle of the night, it’s like an earthquake is about to happen.

“I don’t think people in Cambridge and along Mill Road where the track will be going realise what it’s like to live next door to freight trains and that volume of traffic.”

Mr Dembicki is also concerned that he will be priced out of the area if his home is bought to make way for East West Rail. He said he did not believe the value of his home would be enough to buy a similar property in the same area.

Cambridge Approaches co-founder William Harrold Pictures: Keith Heppell
Cambridge Approaches co-founder William Harrold Pictures: Keith Heppell

He is calling for “greater honesty and transparency” from the EWR Co as well as “proper engagement”.

“We need to see the supposed economic benefits and they’ve got to be weighed against the cost on our lives. I just feel that this might just release the mistakes of other large-scale projects like HS2.”

Annabel Sykes, who lives in Great Shelford, said the LIQ’s questions are intrusive and the forms are time-consuming to complete.

“Many recipients have been worried by receipt of an LIQ and others have been puzzled about why they have received one or why their neighbours have received one and they haven’t.

“Some who have asked EWR Co why they have received an LIQ have been told that it relates to the operation of the railway, for others the reply has been that they will need to wait until the first statutory consultation to find out,” she said, adding that it took EWR Co “close to two weeks to publish frequently

asked questions to help and reassure the many people in receipt of LIQs”.

The co-founder of Cambridge Approaches ,William Harrold, a retired engineer who lives in Haslingfield, which would be impacted by the proposed route, said the move has led to more anxiety for residents.

He told the Cambridge Independent: “EWR Co have made no attempt to win hearts and minds with this information grab, which is leading to yet more anxiety. I attended a face-to-face interview on a large farm that would be cut in two. Questions to EWR Co staff are deflected or met with disdaining smiles, and no commitment on anything.”

East West Railway Company's preferred approach into Cambridge for East West Rail
East West Railway Company's preferred approach into Cambridge for East West Rail

Anna Jefferson, whose home in Haslingfield backs directly onto the field where the route is proposed, added: “We bought this house and bought it mainly because you have this lovely view, which is really unusual. We’ve renovated it and so we’ve opened up the view.

“Every morning I would open the bedroom window and go ‘I’m so lucky, this is just lovely’ and now I can’t even look out. I look out the window and it makes me feel sick. All of the time I’m thinking what is actually coming and what does this mean?”

She added: “The worst thing is when people say ‘oh you’re just a nimby’ and there’s a real difference between being a nimby if it’s your neighbour putting on a conservatory or maybe a small housing development. This isn’t being a nimby. This is so huge that it’s beyond nimbyism. It’s absolute horror tied with the fact that there is no cost benefit ratio to this thing. We know it’s going to be a white elephant.

“Of course, I don’t want this in my back garden, but if it was just a little choo choo train that’d be completely different. This isn’t. This is the equivalent of the M25 being stuck in your back garden.”

East West Rail drop-in event at the Graduate. Picture: Keith Heppell
East West Rail drop-in event at the Graduate. Picture: Keith Heppell

A spokesperson for East West Railway Company said: “Land Interest Questionnaires (LIQs) are an essential part of the planning process for projects like East West Rail. They help identify who owns, occupies and uses land that may be affected by the railway – and it means we can keep people fully informed about our consultations and the planning process.

“We’ve sent LIQs to people who might hold an interest in land potentially affected by the railway, which are based on recent Land Registry and desktop searches. For example, the project may affect land in different ways, such as the proximity to the railway corridor or land on the preferred route alignment that may be required for the project or impacted by the operation of the railway when constructed.

“We are still in the planning stages for East West Rail and updated proposals will be shared at the first stage of statutory consultation in the summer, which will show the extent of land and property needed to build and operate the railway.”

A list of questions and answers about the Land Interest Questionnaires can be found on the EWR website at bit.ly/4a4oUpe.

If anyone believes they should have received a LIQ but did not, or if they have any other questions about the process, they are encouraged to get in touch with EWR Co by emailing land@eastwestrail.co.uk or calling 0330 8387583.

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