The East West Rail Project and The Eversdens
Published on September 22nd, 2020 | by admin0
The East West Rail project will be the most important planning issue to affect our local community in The Eversdens over the next decade. Depending on its exact siting, the railway’s construction, and its operation once opened, could have a significant adverse impact on our local area. It is essential that we are all aware of what lies on the horizon, and that we take every opportunity available to us, individually and collectively, to have a voice in the decisions that lie ahead.
The nature of the East West Rail project
The East West Rail project has separate components. The ‘Western Section’, connecting Oxford to Bedford, is already under construction. Our immediate local concern is with the siting of the ‘Central Section’, which will run between Bedford and Cambridge. This section has been designated by the Government as a ‘Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project’. The implication is that different planning rules will apply. Construction of this part of the railway is expected to begin in 2025.
It is important to understand that the Central Section, which immediately affects us, is only one part of a larger jigsaw. The ultimate plan is to connect the railway line from Cambridge to the East of England ports. As such, the line planned will not be merely a passenger line, connecting Oxford, Bedford and Cambridge, and intermediate towns, and operating within normal passenger travel hours. Once complete and operational, it will be a major route for heavy freight traffic through our local area, potentially at any hour. We should not underestimate the significance of this and the potential adverse impact.
The development of East West Railway Co’s plans for the Central Section
The East West Railway Company is the company established to develop the Central (Bedford-Cambridge) Section of the planned railway. The Department of Transport is its main shareholder.
The East West Railway Company’s plans for the Central Section have five development stages.
- Choosing the ‘Preferred Route Option’ (ie, the broad route corridor)
- Developing ‘Route Alignment Options’ (ie, specific route options, within that corridor)
- Choosing a ‘Preferred Route Alignment’ (ie, the final route)
- Securing development consent
- Starting construction
Stage 1 was completed in early 2020. Stage 2 is in progress. Stage 3 looms on the horizon in 2021.
The Company’s 2019 consultation on its ‘Preferred Route Option’
The East West Railway Co conducted a non-statutory public consultation exercise early in 2019, with a view to identifying its ‘Preferred Route Option’ for the Central Section of the railway: ie, the section between Bedford and Cambridge. Five options were presented in that consultation. These identified five possible ‘corridors’ within which the final route might be located. Information about that 2019 consultation area is archived on the East West Railway Company’s website. The website includes the five route option maps, as well as the original consultation document and underlying technical report.
The Company’s selection of Route Option E as its ‘Preferred Route Option’
In January 2020, the Secretary of State for Transport announced that the preferred route option for the Central Section was what had been known as ‘Route Option E’ in the 2019 consultation.
This decision could not have been worse for our local community: Route Option E is the route option that has the greatest potential for adverse impact on our local area.
As the map shows, Route Option E assumes that a railway station will be sited in the Cambourne/Caxton area, and that the line would run from there through a narrow corridor that runs south-east, crossing the A603, and eventually joining existing rail lines south of Cambridge. In short, if the line follows Route Option E, it will inevitably run between The Eversdens (to its west/south-west) and Comberton/Barton (to its east/north-east).
For maps of the Preferred Route Option, see:
- Bedford to Cambridge: the Preferred Route Option Downloadable Map
- Bedford to Cambridge: the Preferred Route Option Interactive Map
For further information about the Preferred Route Option, and EWR Co’s thinking, see:
- Bedford to Cambridge: The Preferred Route Option webpage
- The Preferred Route Option: Summary document
- East West Rail: Your Questions Answered document
Local individuals and groups are seeking, via communications with the Company and Freedom of Information requests, to better understand the calculations that underlie East West Railway Company’s choice of Route Option E. Particular concern has been raised within the Cambourne/Caxton area about the location of the railway station: there is a strong body of local opinion that the station would be better located north of Cambourne, rather than near Caxton, in order to better serve the growing local population and reduce unnecessary local traffic to the station. It is conceivable that re-location of that station to the north might have an impact on route choice and could make more attractive a different route that runs west-east along the A428. However, it is vital that we are realistic about this. As things stand, East West Railway Company have said that they are exploring the Route Option E corridor area. As a local community, we need to understand the implications of that, for us, and we need to ensure that we have a voice in discussions about the location of any route that runs through the Route Option E corridor.
The current stage: developing ‘Route Alignment Options’
Having identified its Preferred Route Option, East West Railway Company is now conducting work to identify a series of specific route options within the Preferred Route Option – what the Company calls the ‘Route Alignment Options’. This includes a large number of environmental and other surveys within the local area. East West Railway Company also began a process of community engagement in early 2020 which was quickly called to a halt in March 2020, when the national Covid-19 lockdown began. East West Railway Company has recently re-started this process of community engagement, initially via a series of online workshops with local parish council representatives, across the route area.
East West Railway Company expects to reach a decision in the coming weeks about the Route Alignment Options. It will then select one of those options as its ‘Preferred Route Alignment’. There will then be a statutory public consultation exercise on that preferred alignment. Following that consultation, the Company will finalise its route proposal, and seek the necessary planning consents. Construction is planned to start in 2025.
Although we will have an opportunity to express an opinion during that statutory public consultation, that may – if anything – come too late. It would be preferable to take advantage of the opportunity offered to us at this earlier stage to influence EWR Co’s thinking about possible routes within the Option E corridor.
Time is short, and we are a small community by comparison with other affected areas.
The work of the East West Rail Cambridge Approaches Action Group
Little and Great Eversden Parish Council was contacted in August 2020 by a local community group, the East West Rail Cambridge Approaches Action Group (‘the Cambridge Approaches Group’). The Group has a dedicated website, which provides information about its aims and objectives, its work, and links to much useful information: http://cambridgeapproaches.org.
The Cambridge Approaches Group was formed in July 2020 by representatives of local communities located in the Route Option E area – and in particular, the area between Toft and the Shelfords. Its major objective is to develop local thinking about possible routes through our area, sensitive to the full range of local concerns, which can be discussed with local communities and with the East West Railway Company. The Group hopes, by this means, to achieve a more open dialogue between communities and with the Company, and a better outcome for the communities concerned..
The Cambridge Approaches Group’s thinking continues to develop through its regular meetings, as further information and views are received. So far, five main route alternatives are being explored and assessed for their impact on each of the local areas.
As of 6 September 2020, the route alternatives being discussed by the Group are depicted on the following map:
For our local community in The Eversdens, the most important point to notice is that four of the five alternative corridors under discussion would see the rail route running within 500 metres-1 km of Little and Great Eversden, and much closer to the far end of the High Street, Little Eversden. The noise and visual impact, in particular, could be considerable. In addition, route would inevitably bisect the roads, bridleways and footpaths that serve our local community – the routes our children use to get to school, and the routes that many of us use to get to work in/around Cambridge.
The alternative corridors under discussion by the Cambridge Approaches Group to date have been shaped by a large number of known parameters/constraints.
The primary assumption that currently underlies the siting of the alternative corridors towards the southern edge of the Route Option E boundary, and so closest to Little and Great Eversden, is the major constraint on route choice which is created by the location of the University’s telescope facility (the Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory (‘MRAO’)), south/south-east of the A603.
The Cambridge Approaches Group understands that the East West Railway Company has had some conversations with the MRAO’s management/the University of Cambridge about the implications of the telescope facility for possible rail routes. The outcome of those conversations is not known, but we do know that concerns have been raised about the railway’s potential interference with the telescope facility – primarily in terms of vibration and line of sight issues – which might result in a large ‘exclusion zone’ around the facility, and force the line towards its outer perimeter. At present, this has led the Cambridge Approaches Group to assume that the most likely crossing point over the A603 would be close to the western side of the junction between the A603 and Royston Road (which runs north to Comberton).
What can you do?
To obtain the best solution for our local community, there are things that we can each do.
The Cambridge Approaches Group will be holding three webinars for interested residents in late September and early October 2020. These webinars are designed to give the Group an opportunity to present its work on route alternatives to the public. The scheduled seminars will take place on:
- Monday 28 September, 12 noon
- Tuesday 29 September, 7pm
- Saturday 3 October, 12 noon
Registration for the webinars can occur online at www.cambridgeapproaches.org. There is a limit to the number of people who can attend each webinar, so it would be a very good idea to register early.
This section of the village website will be updated, as we receive further information about the EWR project. We will use Eversden Online (the village e-mail) to let you know when new information is added to the website.
Please also consider signing up the Cambridge Approaches Group’s news (www.cambridgeapproaches.org/?page_id=8) and to East West Railway Company’s newsletter (www.eastwestrail.co.uk/get-in-touch/newsletter).
Offer your comments/views
If you have views which you would like to voice about East West Railway Company, you might consider writing to:
- your local MP, Anthony Browne (email@example.com);
- your District Councillor, Aiden van de Weyer (firstname.lastname@example.org);
- your County Councillor, Lina Nieto (Lina.Nieto@cambridge.gov.uk)
As importantly, to ensure that your Parish Council ensure that our villages’ concerns can be fully appreciated and represented, we encourage you to:
- email the Clerk to the Parish Council (email@example.com) with questions and/or comments about the EWR project;
- attend the next Parish Council meeting, which will provide an opportunity to discuss, and raise questions and concerns about, the EWR project.
It is particularly important that the Cambridge Approaches Group is aware of all local considerations that might need to be weighed in assessing alternative corridors.
Offer your expertise
The Cambridge Approaches Group needs experts in several areas, to ensure that its proposals are well-founded and robust. The Group is looking for voluntary expertise in the following areas:
- civil engineering (preferably railway engineering)
- quantity surveying
- environmental noise
- ecology, local history and archaeology
- computer aided design
- legal and land issues
If you have relevant expertise which you can offer to the Cambridge Approaches Group, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.