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Planned 30m train wash in Cambridge on hold while application is made

Images of the proposed train wash Copyright: GTR
Images of the proposed train wash Copyright: GTR

Network Rail will make an application to 'formalise' its claim to have the right to build a train wash in the centre of Cambridge.

The scheme had previously been presented as a 'done deal' according to campaigners opposing the train wash, which would be around 25 metres from the nearest property boundary in Great Eastern Street.

Building on railway land does not always require planning permission from the local authority, as most developments do, but it can be required in some cases, often when construction or the building would have a significant impact on the surrounding area.

Network Rail is responsible for seeking the overall permission, but operator Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) has been managing the project for the trainwash, which will be about nine metres high, seven metres wide and 33 metres long.

Residents, who set up the campaign group Quash the Trainwash to fight the plans, were told in a public meeting at the beginning of the year by a GTR spokesperson that the company believed the necessary permitted permissions were in place for construction to begin.

A GTR spokesperson had told residents Cambridge City Council had seen the plans a few years ago as part of a package of planned work, and the only part it was told would require planning permission was the development which led to disruption to Mill Road bridge, which saw the bridge closed for an extended period in 2019.

Following the residents’ campaign, and with support from a Labour city councillor for the area, Dave Baigent, Cambridge City Council stepped in and requested a certificate of lawful development.

Network Rail said it was confident the building would be allowed under permitted development rules and argued that a certificate of lawful development would not be necessary.

Protestors at Cambridge railway station who are aganst the proposed trainwash.. Picture: Keith Heppell. (40188337)
Protestors at Cambridge railway station who are aganst the proposed trainwash.. Picture: Keith Heppell. (40188337)

However, it has now said it will apply to the council to confirm permitted development rights apply.

A spokesperson said: “Network Rail’s view remains that permitted development rights can be used by GTR to construct the train wash facility. To formalise this position, an application will be submitted to the local authority to confirm that permitted development rights can be used to construct the facility without additional permissions being required.”

Cllr Baigent said: “As yet I am unsure as to what they are asking for, and I don’t know if it will be for the building surrounding the train wash or for the whole development.

“Legal advice sought by residents – that I understand has cost £8,000-£10,000 – has certainly provided the basis for the challenge to Network Rail.

“It’s nice to see a little person taking on Goliath.”

Resident and campaigner for Quash the Trainwash, Sean Rintel, said it was “undemocratic” that residents had to seek legal advice to force Network Rail into making an application.

GTR’s engineering director, Steve Lammin, said: “Construction of the carriage wash machine and its enclosure is postponed while the planning situation is clarified for the enclosure.

“We and Network Rail have been clear to the community that if additional planning consents were required for any elements of the work then they would be sought.

“We are continuing other work relating to the Cambridge depot upgrade, which will support our current timetabled services. This includes the upgrade of both north and south sidings, signalling work, and the construction of a connecting track and overhead wires under Mill Road Bridge between the two sets of sidings – with associated groundwork, drainage and piling.”

Images of the proposed train wash Copyright: GTR
Images of the proposed train wash Copyright: GTR

A Cambridge City Council spokesperson said: “The council had a meeting with Network Rail last week where they confirmed that they will be submitting a prior approval application. They are currently putting together the required information to facilitate that submission, which we are expecting to receive in the next few weeks.

“Network Rail have stated to the council that the activities that the residents are seeing and will continue to see relate to other works planned north of Mill Road Bridge, which are not related to the building of the carriage wash and so would be covered under permitted development.

“Network Rail are aware that any works that form part of the prior approval application taking place before the application decision would invalidate that process and that a full planning application would then be required for the train carriage wash.

“We are intent on getting the relevant applications submitted and that Network Rail follow the correct process in having any impacts assessed in relation to the development of the carriage wash.”

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