East West Rail launches new consultation on route: Huge flyover proposed for South Cambridgeshire countryside
The East West Rail Company has unveiled five potential routes the new line could take into Cambridge - including proposals for a huge flyover in the South Cambridgeshire countryside.
The routes are revealed as the latest phase of public consultation on the £5billion line linking Oxford and Cambridge, via Milton Keynes and Bedford, is launched.
The consultation documents acknowledge an “emerging preference” for the new station at Cambourne to be built to the north of the town, rather than the initial suggestion of placing it in the south, where residents, the town council and the Wildlife Trust feared it would have devastated the Country Park.
But other aspects will raise major questions for communities along the proposed routes.
It remains in favour of a southern approach to Cambridge due to a number of major engineering challenges with a northern approach.
And this means a large flyover is proposed south of Harston to cross the River Cam, the A10 and the existing railway line - as exclusively revealed in this week’s Cambridge Independent.
A deep cutting through a hill south of Haslingfield is also part of the plans.
And a handful of residential homes could face demolition under some of the options under consideration, including around the area of Broadway in Bourn.
William Harrold, of Cambridge Approaches campaign group, said: “I think there will be lots of very shocked people in the area. There’s some pretty huge engineering works there.
“I don’t think the people of Harston have realised the full beauty of what’s been proposed yet.”
The East West Rail Company, which hopes to complete the new line by the end of the decade, is seeking feedback on the five proposed route alignments, connecting existing stations in Bedford and Cambridge via new stations in the area around Sandy and St Neots and at Cambourne.
From there, the rail company - which highlights two of the five schemes as its favoured routes - still prefers a route southwards into a stop at Cambridge South station to serve the fast-growing Cambridge Biomedical Campus.
Campaigners at Cambridge Approaches and CamBedRailRoad, however, want to see a more northerly approach, taking in Northstowe, and heading to Cambridge North. They argue this would serve the new town and avoid some of the environmental damage of a southern route.
While the East West Rail Company has published further justification of its preference for a southerly approach, it has not put the matter out for public consultation again - claiming residents have already had the opportunity to raise that in earlier rounds.
It says: “In engineering terms, a northern route from Cambourne to Cambridge is feasible, although it is expected to be complex and expensive. A northern route would cross the newly constructed A14 trunk road to the west of Girton, which at this location is an eight-lane dual carriageway. This would therefore require a substantial bridge structure. Other bridge structures would be required.”
It also warns that a station at Oakington, east of Northstowe, would need elevation as it lies in a floodplain and modifications to Cambridge North would also be required.
A junction with the West Anglia Main Line would also be needed north of Milton,on land which also sits in a floodplain.
It says a northern approach would be economically less valuable too and adds: “There are approximately 40 residential and commercial properties that would be likely to require demolition for the northern approach as opposed to five for the southern approach.”
East West Rail says the two options highlighted as emerging preferences from Bedford to Cambridge benefit from a shared “travel corridor” with the A428 scheme, which would support economic growth and new housing, while providing the best value for money for the taxpayers. Both of these would call at a stop to the north of Cambourne.
Dr Andy Williams, vice president of Cambridge programme and strategy at AstraZeneca, which is building its global R&D centre on Cambridge Biomedical Campus, said:
“East West Rail will open up many opportunities for businesses like ours in south Cambridge, where our global R&D centre provides jobs for local communities and delivers life-changing medicines.
“This new sustainable transport link is great news for us and the Cambridge Biomedical Campus – making it easier to collaborate with researchers from other life science hubs in the UK, as well as making it easier for more people to access the thousands of jobs being created here, both at AstraZeneca and in other organisations too.”
East West Railway Company chief executive Simon Blanchflower added: “This rail link is vital to the future prosperity of the region so we ask people to encourage their friends, relatives and colleagues to get involved in the consultation so they can help us to bring the right connections to all of the communities who live and work in the Oxford Cambridge Arc.
“In developing these proposals, our team has focused on how we can minimise disruption to local communities and looked for ways we can protect and enhance the local environment. Now it’s time for communities to share their valuable local knowledge and ideas with us.”
A summary of the consultation is being posted to 270,000 addresses along the route and East West Rail Company will hold a series of online events for communities and stakeholders.
Community events and live-chat sessions are planned, along with an interactive virtual consultation room due to launch on April 12.
Brian Milnes, Liberal Democrat candidate for the Shelfords and Sawston seat on South Cambridgeshire District Council, said: “These plans will have a big impact on several South Cambridgeshire villages, especially Haslingfield and Harston.
“A large flyover south of Harston across the Cam, the A10 and the existing railway line, and a deep cutting through the hill south of Haslingfield will greatly worry residents of those villages.
“Many other villages will be no less concerned about the potential loss of connections, the proximity of the new line to them and its impact on the local environment.
“I will now be looking closely at the details of the plans. What noise will be caused by the flyover? What will all the cuttings and embankments look like? How can we stop construction traffic making the lives of residents a misery?”
East West Railway Company is also consulting on proposals for a discretionary purchase scheme – the Need to Sell Scheme - which would set out the support it would offer to those people whose sale of their home or small business may be directly affected by proposals set out in the announcement of a preferred route alignment.
Anthony Browne, the Conservative MP for South Cambridgeshire, who pushed for the Cambourne station to be built to the north, said: “East-West Rail has a duty to keep residents fully informed, and I will continue to do whatever I can to ensure that the consultation process is as full and transparent as possible as decisions on this important project are made in the coming months.”
There remain questions over what freight may use the line - a concern for villages on the route as much freight is carried at night.
Aidan Van de Weyer, Liberal Democrat candidate for mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, said: “We now have the opportunity to scrutinise these plans carefully, assess what impact they will have on local communities and see what the benefits to our area can be.
“The Liberal Democrats have long supported the building of a new line from Oxford to Cambridge and beyond. We need more east-west connectivity, and a new railway can provide the backbone of better and more sustainable transport across the region. In particular, when Cambridge South Station is completed, East West Rail will be key to the ongoing growth of the Cambridge Biomedical Campus.
“It is vital that this new line contributes fully to the move to zero carbon from day one. That means that the line must be designed to be electrified and that no diesel trains should be allowed to use it. Otherwise, we are building in long-term carbon emissions. Our children will not thank us for that.
“Many thousands of residents of Cambridgeshire are potentially affected by the routes being consulted on. I will be working with communities to ensure that we fully understand how these plans will impact us.”
Meanwhile, Dr Nik Johnson, Labour’s candidate for mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough at the May 6 elections and a district councillor for St Neots East, said: “The East West Rail link will have potentially huge benefits for our region and I am supportive of its continued development
“However, the final choice of route needs a much more robust consideration that the current options on the table.
“I would prefer and will campaign to see the intersection of the East Coast mainline and the new East West line at the mainline train station of St Neots rather than the proposed location of an isolated and remote station at St Neots South.
“In addition, the approach to Cambridge city via a transport hub at Cambourne then a northern approach via Cambridge North station has apparently been rejected.
“I can see real benefits of such a route for many emerging communities to the north of Cambridge city, particularly Northstowe. I would urge the consultation to reconsider this option at this stage of the consultation process.”
Ian Sollom, Liberal Democrat parliamentary spokesperson for South Cambridgeshire, said: “Residents of South Cambridgeshire now have much more clarity about EWR’s intentions. We now have a big job trying to understand all of the impacts: on the environment, on the landscape, on noise pollution, on connections between villages and generally on the quality of life in South Cambridgeshire.
“I am very pleased that EWR have expressed a preference for a station to the north of Cambourne. There are clear advantages to having the station in this location. It is supported by residents and the town council.
“But I continue to be disappointed that there has never been an opportunity for the public to be consulted on alternative approaches to Cambridge from Cambourne. The more extensive comparison between an approach into Cambridge North and EWR’s preferred route published with this consultation to justify that decision will understandably come under close scrutiny by residents and campaign groups.”
This is the first time the entire route has been drawn together in a single consultation.
The East West Rail company said there were six key areas of focus for the consultation:
- How Oxford Station and its supporting infrastructure could be improved - including Oxford Parkway and Bicester Village stations
- Options for avoiding lengthy periods of delay at the London Road level crossing, Bicester
- How to ensure that communities around Bletchley and the Marston Vale Line would get the most from significant investment in their railway line
- Options for new stations at Bedford and Bedford St Johns and their supporting infrastructure
- Five route alignment options for the section of East West Rail between Bedford and Cambridge, including an emerging preference for a station at Cambourne North
- Plans for improving customer experience through better station design and more timely travel information
The company has also presented developing plans for a new Bedford St Johns Station and a complete redevelopment of Bedford Station. Direct journeys from Bedford to Cambridge will take 35 minutes.
The consultation launch follows the announcement earlier this year of £760million from the government to fund construction of the East West Rail line between Oxford and Bletchley/Milton Keynes.
The proposals and consultation can be seen at www.eastwestrail.co.uk. They went live at 2pm on March 31, 2021 and the consultation runs until June 9.