East West Rail seeks feedback from communities along route at series of public events
The East West Rail Company begun series of public events by asking for insights from the communities that will be affected by the route.
Beginning in Cambourne, which will get a new station when the £5bn line opens by the end of the decade, the public arms-length body said local knowledge could help inform the next stages.
Speaking at the Hub in Cambourne, project director Graeme Shaw told the Cambridge Independent: “We’ve had really positive feedback, which we expected in Cambourne. Straight after the announcement about the route coming here, people said it was fantastic.
“They’ve been really pleased with the clarity of the information we’ve got. Of course, people would love to have more detail, but at this stage of the process we haven’t got that.
“The idea is to go out and speak to communities affected, get their thoughts and understand what they know.”
East West Rail Company has pledged to have a net positive effect on biodiversity along the line, which will run from Oxford to Cambridge via Milton Keynes, Bedford and new stations north of Sandy/south of St Neots, and in Cambourne.
Precise details of the route alignment are still to be worked out, with only a route corridor published.
“It’s been really good to get details from people,” said Graeme. “They know, for example, that in a certain corner of a small river there is a certain species. We might have found that out, but now we know we can direct our surveys in the next three months to find them, so it’s been hugely informative.”
South Cambridgeshire Tory MP Anthony Browne and district councillor Ruth Betson have called for a station north of Cambourne to serve the growing communities on the A428 corridor and avoid any impact on the Wildlife Trust’s nature reserve. The trust is also known to be concerned about the impact of the line and associated infrastructure.
But Graeme said the more southerly location for the station indicated on its route map is the only option currently under consideration. Other sites would need fresh consultation.
“It’s constrained to the route we’ve identified in this stage. Options outside of that are not for us to consider at this time,” he explained.
“We will consider the route alignments that come through there. It is pretty narrow and we need to consider the existing population and how they’ll engage with that station, and what it will be used for, not just when it becomes operational at the end of the decade but 10, 15, 20 years after that.
“How will that interact with traffic on the A428 and transport behaviours? And obviously, there will be a lot of areas being developed in some way. We will be considering the first and last miles of everyone’s journey. Those are the considerations for the next phase.”
Assessing the impact on biodiversity will be carried out using methods being devised for East West Rail Company by Cranford University.
Surveys for great crested newts and bats are due to commence in spring, with East West Rail Company writing now to landowners.
“We will repeat the process in a year’s time. We need at least two seasons of it before we go for a development consent order that allows us to demonstrate there are or aren’t certain species and evaluate our plans – either by avoiding somewhere, or relocating a species somewhere else,” said Graeme.
Heading into the south of Cambridge, the route corridor is particularly wide – meaning the precise route is far from mapped out at this stage. But it will connect up with Cambridge South railway station, should that proceed as expected.
For landowners and communities concerned about the impact, there was a clear message from Graeme to get in touch.
“We will look at the strength of opinion and where it was located. Is there anything that makes us think we’ve missed something? Are there some things we have not understood? Hopefully there will be lots of insights from people that will help us.
“For example, if we put a station in a certain place, how does connectivity needs to look? What cycleways are needed? How can people get across linear infrastructure breaking the countryside?”
Having published the preferred route corridor, the next stage for East West Rail is to develop its route alignment options in 2020-21, finalise it in 2022, before securing a development consent order in 2023-24. Construction should begin in 2025 and be completed in about five years.
The community events continued at Shelford Rugby Club, and Little Gransden Village Hall.
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