East West Rail: ‘People are frightened for their communities’
Tens of thousands of residents’ lives will be blighted by the prospect of a piece of infrastructure that is going to last 150 years in the wrong place, a campaign group chairman has said.
Sebastian Kindersley was speaking after the publication of the East West Rail Company’s consultation about its plans last week.
“People are frightened that their properties and their communities are going to be destroyed,” he told the Cambridge Independent. “There are people who see that the alignment map shows the bottoms of their gardens disappearing.”
Mr Kindersley is chairman of the CamBedRailRoad, which is campaigning for a northern approach to Cambridge to be evaluated to the same degree as alternative routes.
He continued: “I think if I was a resident of one of the impacted parishes, I’d find it very difficult not to go out with a placard right now and start marching up and down.”
The consultation has been met with alarm and anger in villages along the route, particularly in Harston, Hauxton and Haslingfield, where there is demand for more detail about the new junction at Harston, the Hauxton level crossing, and the Shepreth branch junction at Great Shelford.
The new junction at Hauxton, for example, could lead to the severing of the link between Harston and Newton for motorists.
Mr Kindersley said there are communities who have “woken up to the threat” following the publication last week.
Concerned villagers have also contacted South Cambridgeshire’s Tory MP Anthony Browne, who said: “I am aware of the profound impact that EWR’s proposals would have on several of our villages.
“This consultation raises a number of concerns, including the prospect of large embankments, bridges and cuttings, new junctions, additional tracks, and the separation of rural communities. I know that these issues will be very worrying for residents living near to proposed route alignments.”
Mr Browne has also called for “a proper consultation on a northern approach into Cambridge and a full sharing of information in relation to all proposals”.
He added: “It is deeply frustrating that neither of these appear in the current consultation documents.
“It’s even more frustrating that there is a lack of transparency about the most controversial aspects of the scheme. We need more details, maps, schematics, and drawings of any major new infrastructure, such as the new junction at Harston, Hauxton level crossing, and the Shepreth branch junction at Great Shelford.
“It is not acceptable to expect people to share their views on a project without seeing all the specifics of what is proposed, and I will therefore be pushing East West Rail Company to be honest with people and publish this information.
“In the next few days, I will be travelling to sites between Cambourne and Great Shelford that will be particularly impacted by the proposed routes, talking to residents and local campaign groups to decide on my next steps.”
The Cambridge Approaches action group is seeking legal advice over the merits of a judicial review after finding its complaints to East West Rail were not answered.
William Harrold, from the group, raised concerns about Chapel Hill near Haslingfield, which has been a pilgrimage site since the Middle Ages and right into the 20th century, and is a local beauty spot.
“It’s going to get a 17-metre deep gash through it that will probably be 35 metres wide. It’s just devastating,” he said.
The route will cross the River Cam on a viaduct, which is proposed to be 30ft up in the air.
“This is just enormous,” he said.
He added: “I’m very conscious of the effect on the local people of this railway and there is this kind of comparative nimbyism thing of trying to put us into a situation where in order to have this, we must inflict the same problem on other people. I don’t want to do that. I want to find the route, but first of all, let’s have the business case for this, because it hasn’t been clearly presented.”
Mr Kindersley, who represents the Liberal Democrats on Cambridgeshire County Council, said he hoped the rail company would “concede” to a full evaluation of the northern route.
“Ultimately, it is going to be far better for the environment, far better for the residents of South Cambridgeshire and Cambridgeshire in general, and it’s going to deliver far more paying passenger journeys in the end,” he suggested.
But an East West Rail Company spokesperson said: “Updated environmental, economic and technical analysis of the approach to Cambridge continues to support our previous assessment that a southern approach is the best solution for Cambridge and its surrounding areas, particularly in relation to impacts on people’s homes.
“We have published extensive information on this in appendix F of our consultation technical report which shows that while a northern and southern approach to Cambridge are around the same length, a southern approach would mean there are fewer flood plains to navigate, fewer homes and businesses would be affected, and fewer works would be required in the centre of Cambridge. We will of course take into account the comments and feedback we receive during this consultation.”
Harston businessman Rupert Pearce Gould said: “There appear to be no benefits for Harston and few for Cambridge” adding: “The only benefit is, if they can design it ‘straight and level’ and fast, they might encourage many of the 5,000 lorries per day that leave Felixstowe to move from the A14 to rail.”
He continued: “For the likes of Sagentia – the high technology centre based in Harston – it adds nothing and spoils the reason why they moved to Harston in the 1990s. Sagentia, like many Cambridge companies, is aiming for a global market and requires international travel or good fibre optic links rather than passenger links to Bletchley.”