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Rail firm says it does not need planning permission for train wash in central Cambridge




Network Rail has refused a request from Cambridge City Council to demonstrate it has the necessary authority to build a train wash in the city.

A group of residents from around Great Eastern Street calling themselves Quash The Trainwash, is opposing the scheme which would see the facility built on railway land 25 metres from their homes.

They are concerned about noise, safety and the visual impact of the train wash.

The city council responded by asking Network Rail to apply for a Certificate of Lawful Development – effectively to show that it does not need planning permission for the development.

Network Rail has said it is confident the train wash qualifies as permitted development, and a certificate is unnecessary.

Planning permission is generally not required for building on railway land, but in certain cases, such as work which is particularly intrusive, it can be.

The train wash Image: GTR (33752778)
The train wash Image: GTR (33752778)

Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), which is managing the project for Network Rail, has previously said the train wash was mentioned in the planning permission for last year’s Mill Road bridge work, submitted in 2018, as the two are part of the same wider railway scheme.

Jason Thorne, project manager at GTR, told residents at a meeting in January: “We approached the council, told them what the plans were, and they said the only bit that needs to go through planning was the bridge works.”

Cllr Dave Baigent, who represents Romsey ward on the city council, said Network Rail’s refusal suggests a lack of confidence that the scheme would be given planning permission.

Cllr Baigent added that Network Rail is acting like a “bully,” and said the train wash would be “out of all proportion for what their permitted development allowed”.

The city council said, following the refusal, that it is reviewing the situation.

Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner has written to GTR’s chief executive, Patrick Verwer, outlining residents’ concerns over the legality of the development and the company’s refusal to comply with the council’s request.

Mr Zeichner said: “My view is that GTR should pause any commencement of the project until these important issues are clarified and all questions can be answered, with the relevant details and plans supplied.

“While I recognise the strategic importance of the facility in terms of helping with future expansion of the rail network, community buy-in and support is crucial for the successful delivery of any project.”

Work on the train wash was due to start this month, but GTR said it has been postponed owing to the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown.

No new start time has been specified.

Sean Rintel, of the Quash The Trainwash protest group, said: “The train wash reflects a deeper problem of serious inequities in the UK’s train planning system, which leaves already embattled communities struggling with development decisions taken without their consent, consultation, or recourse to appeal.

The train wash Image: GTR (33753012)
The train wash Image: GTR (33753012)

“This is about fairness. Network Rail, GTR, and Greater Anglia are claiming that they can build an industrial train wash in a residential area without the kind of planning oversight that most development requires. We think that’s wrong – for us, and for all UK communities. Local residents are being denied the right to have a real say about a major industrial development with a serious impact on their lives.”

He added: “This is not just our fight, it’s a fight for all communities who want both the right to decide about their community planning and the right to a well-planned railway that fits everyone’s needs.”

The city council’s director of planning and economic development, Stephen Kelly, said: “[Network Rail has] explained the basis for their argument that the works proposed to construct the train wash do not require planning permission. They have declined the council’s invitation to apply for a lawful development certificate on the basis that this would add cost, delay delivery of the project and would require additional resources within Network Rail’s team were they to do so across the country.

“They believe on the basis that they feel the work is permitted development, that such an application is unnecessary on this occasion.

“The council is reviewing the argument put forward and expects to conclude on this matter shortly.”

Steve Lammin, engineering director at GTR, said: “Work upgrading Cambridge Depot to stable and service new Thameslink and Greater Anglia trains is essential for improving services to and from the city, and the train wash is an important part of this project.

“While we appreciate that Network Rail has permitted development rights for the train wash to be built on operational railway land, we fully understand the concerns of the residents of Great Eastern Street.

“This is why we have committed to continue to work with them as we reduce any possible impact there may be.”

A spokesperson for Network Rail said: “We are confident that the work is permitted development. We appreciate the comments and concerns of local residents and will look to work with them going forward to address the issues raised.”

Critics have described the train wash as an “enormous piece of industrial infrastructure” and a “monstrosity”.

Residents also criticised GTR for releasing images of the train wash they branded “useless”, “a joke” and “misleading” because they misrepresented the scale of the proposed building.

The train wash is expected to be nine metres high, 34 metres long and seven metres wide, and be located approximately 25 metres from the nearest property boundary.

GTR has played down fears over noise, given assurance residents will not be harmed by chemicals used, and committed to working with residents to mitigate the visual impact.



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