Dear fellow resident of the Sawston and Shelfords division for the upcoming Cambridgeshire County Council elections,
The Shelfords EWR Action Group is delighted to invite you to a hustings for the above election to hear the candidates answer questions on the recent consultation launched by East West Railway Company.
The event will be held via Zoom at 7pm on Sunday 18th April and will require prior registration. Please follow this link to register and you will receive an email to join the meeting.
The candidates are as follows:
Conservative Manas Deb
Conservative Dale Hargrove
Green Sophie Berridge
Green Ellie Crane
Labour Tracey Draper
Labour Anand Pillai
Liberal Democrat Maria King
Liberal Democrat Brian Milnes
During the hustings, the candidates will be asked in turn six questions (of which they will have prior notification) with 2.5 minutes for each Party to answer. In the remaining time, the Moderator will pick a small number of relevant questions posed by the attendees in the chat facility to put to the candidates, again with 2.5 minutes to answer per party.
Our division includes Haslingfield, Harston, Newton, Hauxton, Little Shelford and Great Shelford, through which EWR’s preferred route option runs. The division also includes Stapleford and Sawston, which will also feel the effect of EWR’s plans. We are certain you will want to hear the candidates thoughts on the plans and what they intend to do, if elected.
From the highly skewed A428 dual carriageway bridge near Highfields Caldecote in the west to the huge, grade-separated Hauxton junction in the east, EWR are proposing to build a Great Wall across rural south Cambridgeshire.
Because the taxpayer is not given a choice on the matter, this 16-kilometre long feature is barely mentioned in the 2021 consultation document, but it does emerge from a study of their long section drawings here and here. Aside from the massive visual impact and the noise, this feature could split communities that have stood for a thousand years. It could disrupt local travel patterns for school children and adults, destroy precious farmland and cause the protected Wimpole Barbastelles to move away.
The loss in local property values is already enormous and EWRCo.’s proposed blight policy will not even scratch the surface in terms of compensation.
We understand from EWR Co. engineers, that their key design driver is to maintain the speed of the railway. It follows that it needs to be straight and level where possible. This is to serve 100mph trains all the way from Oxford to Cambridge. But the forecasted number of people per train making this trip is only o.7 perhaps rising to 1.9 on average. [18,000 trips/year, 18 x 4 trains / day see 2019 EWR Co. Technical Report §4.11]. Can someone please explain the logic of this? EWR Co. tell us 75% of the traffic will be local and that they are surprised by this. If that’s correct why on earth has it not affected the design criteria? It looks like a symptom of a boondoggle. Please build something to serve the local demand – not a bullet train on a great wall.
Cross-Section of The Great Wall
The Great Wall is of course a railway embankment and we understand that their typical cross-section is as shown in fig.1 below.
Looking at the long section diagrams linked to above we can see that the embankment height mostly in the range 5-12 metres. So we can expect the width at the base to be around 30 to 50 metres.
Our previous post on farmland impact assumed an 8m width. EWR Co are also reserving land either side of the Great Wall for construction access. We assume that the flatter land to the north of Cambridge would not need such high embankments. EWR Co. might also consider some innovation there by sinking the railway into a trench as proposed by cambedrailroad.org and shown in Fig.2
Photographer’s Impressions of The Great Wall
We asked a local photographer to create some impressions of what The Great Wall might look like in the section between Little Eversden and Haslingfield. These have been created from very recent photographs combined with railway embankments from elsewhere.
These mockups (figures 3, 5 & 7) are approximate but they do give an impression of what The Great Wall would be like. Also shown are the views from the same locations today (figures 4, 6 & 8).
The West Anglia Mainline (WAML) at Clayhithe
To get a feeling for the likely height of embankments required north of Cambridge here is a view (fig.9) of the existing WAML about 300m from the river Cam. It’s not easy to see but there is actually an embankment there. Notice also that the overhead lines are below tree height thus shielding the view from the houses behind them.
That’s not the end of the impact of this proposal by a long way, but it is enough for this post.
The second non-statutory consultation from EWRCo. came out on the 31st of March 2021 just before the Easter break. As you may imagine the Cambridge Approaches team has been very busy since then and we are conscious that we have not updated this blog about it. We did make some initial comments in the Cambridge Independent here and on the ITV news. There is plenty of coverage in today’s Cambridge Independent (7th April 2021) and no doubt this will appear on line in due course. Suffice it to say it is far from the fair consultation on a northern route into Cambridge that we are campaigning for.
Harston Area Webinar
We are continuing our series of spring webinars with one for the Harston area. People from other villages are very welcome too. This will be at 7pm on Monday 19th April 2021 when Dr. William Harrold and Cllr. Sebastian Kindersley will present on “the need for a fair consultation on a northern route to Cambridge”.
To register for this webinar please use this link.
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.
Note that our webinar programme is now maintained here.
Meetings Organised by Our MP
Anthony Browne has invited Cambridge Approaches and CBRR to participate in the following public meetings on the subject of East West Rail:
Great Shelford: Tuesday 20th April at 6pm – 7pm
Eversdens, Haslingfield, Harlton, Harston, Hauxton, Little Shelford & Newton: Wednesday 21st April at 6pm – 7.30pm
Bourn, Caxton, Cambourne, Comberton, Toft, Highfields Caldecote, Hardwick, Kingston and Toft: Thursday 29th April at 6pm – 7pm
These meetings will be via ABs Facebook and Youtube pages and details will be provided at www.anthonybrowne.org/east-west-rail
For the last six months Cambridge Approaches, supported by the working group have been looking to challenge EWR’s decision not to consult in parity on a northern approach by way of a judicial review.
We have instructed expert lawyers, taken advice and have been actively fundraising from parish councils and private donors to kick start that process.
Legally we may only have a small window in which to challenge EWR and we have to be prompt when doing so. We believe that this could be our window and we have to be able to demonstrate to a judge that we have funds in place to be able to proceed.
Time is now of the essence
We currently need substantial donations from residents to reach our target. We aimed to raise £50k from supportive parish councils and a further £30K from concerned residents, we currently need substantial donations from residents to hit this target.
Donations of over £250 can be donated directly to Cambridge Approaches ltd (email firstname.lastname@example.org) we have created a not for profit company limited by guarantee to handle donations. Should there be any unused funds donated in this way they can be refunded pro rata, further details can be given with regards to this process.
Alternatively we also have created a go fund me page where donations of any size are welcomed and will be used towards both our campaign costs (hiring experts to carry out detailed assessments, Royal Mail outs etc) as well as going towards the judicial review costs.
Iwrote recently about the situation regarding the Oxford to Ipswich East West Rail link.We are hosting a webinar on this subject especially for those to the east of Cambridge. This webinar will be specifically about the effect that the new rail route will have on the Cambridge to Newmarket corridor area.Whilst we understand that it might seem a fairly benign development, and indeed more frequent train services are to be welcomed, the railway line will dramatically affect the corridor. The webinar will focus on the effects that the new rail route will have, how you can find out more and on the alternatives available.For those for who have not been following events, we will also give some history of the project, and try to demystify the way that it has evolved since inception back in 1997. There will be plenty of opportunity to ask questions as well.The webinar will be on Tuesday 16th March at 7pm. You can use the link below, or visit the Cambridge Approaches website and register from there.
You are invited to a Zoom meeting. When: Mar 16, 2021 07:00 PM Greenwich Mean Time Register in advance for this meeting:
“However, we are seeking views through this consultation on whether we are right to focus on routes that approach Cambridge from the south. Of the five route options that are being taken forward for consultation, Routes B and E could alternatively approach Cambridge from the north if new information is provided that suggests this would be better than approaching Cambridge from the south.”
The 2019 EWR Co. consultation form asked for views on five route options all approaching Cambridge from the south. In addition, they asked “Do you agree that EWR Co are right to prioritise route options that approach Cambridge from the south rather than from the north?”
EWR Co. presented statistics on the answer to this leading question in January 2020. A slight majority disagreed (37% vs 35%). This is hardly a sign that EWR Co. have got it right.
We decided to probe a bit further into the consultation responses.
Northern Parishes not Consulted
We found that parishes to the north of Cambridge and the A428 were not even consulted about a northern approach. We know this because the 2020 Public Feedback Report lists the prescribed consultees and does not include these parishes – see Appendix 2a starting on p.8. Furthermore, no maps of the potential northern approach were presented in the consultation. This hardly facilitates EWR Co.’s request for new information about a northern approach to be provided by the consultees. Where is the new information going to come from if you don’t actually consult to the north? and shouldn’t EWR Co. have had a more detailed look at the northern approach themselves and presented the information to the public in an impartial way rather than relying on the public to do their own research? There was certainly no parity here compared with the consultation on the approaches to the south.
“In answer to your comment around the various requests you have received from constituents for a consultation to be held on whether East West Rail should approach from the south or the north, please let me clarify that this point has been to a full public consultation as part of our first non-statutory consultation held between 28 January and March 11 2019.” (Our emphasis).
Are EWR Co. attempting rewrite history here?
How well were People in the Option E Area Consulted?
There were no consultation meetings held in the Option E area in between Cambourne and Cambridge. Cambridge Approaches can attest that the level of awareness of the consultation among the general public in this area in the second half of 2020 was very low – our leaflet and webinars were the first that many people had heard of it. Shockingly, most of the few that were aware heard about it through survey requests from EWR Co’s agents, Ardent.
Most of the discussion during the consultation centred on routes through Bassingbourn rather than Cambourne.
Maybe it was different in Cambourne and further west, but judging from recent activity in Option E parishes north of Bedford, they were in the dark as well. For example, the village of Ravensden is bang in the line of Option E, but does not appear in the list of statutory consultees. Why is that?
Parish Council Responses
Perhaps the best proxy we have for public opinion on the route options at the time of the 2019 consultation comes from the parish council responses that were sent in.
EWR Co. listed 70 parish councils as prescribed consultees and a year later they published the responses from 41 of these councils here (starting on page 63). Figure 2 shows a map of which parish councils responded. Perhaps one of the more surprising things on the map is the lack of response from Great Shelford and surrounding parishes which EWR Co knew (because they said so on p. 20 of their consultation document) would be affected by any route option chosen. Despite the parish being listed as a prescribed consultee, the parish clerk to Great Shelford PC did not receive a letter notifying the parish council of the consultation.
In the consultation, the parish councils were faced with a choice between route options A to E. This choice involved deciding on at least three issues:
The route out of Bedford south (A, B, C) or north (D, E)
Bassingbourn (A, C, D) or Cambourne (B, E) station as the last stop before Cambridge
Cambridge approached from the south (A, B, C, D, E) or the north (-)
We have been through the response letters sent in by parish councils. We first looked at whether they supported a northern approach into Cambridge or whether they at least thought there should be a proper consultation about it. Then, we counted the parishes that responded but did not express a preference because they (very understandably) felt that the consultation did not provide enough information.
Finally, we counted the parishes preferring a route through Bassingbourn (routes A, C, D) and separately through Cambourne (routes B, E). In doing this, we noted that only one parish east of Cambourne (based on the dotted black line in Figure 2) supported a southern option with a station at Cambourne.
Figure 3 shows the results.
Hardly a resounding endorsement of option E with a southern approach to Cambridge.
The Elephant in the Room
Figure 3 shows that the largest proportion of parish council responses (54%) either expressed a preference for a northern approach to Cambridge or at least felt there should be a proper consultation about it. This was not even a consultation option, but it was the most common response.
That is the elephant in the room which EWR Co. ignored in choosing their preferred route option (and continue to ignore).
They just presented option E as the most popular choice and re-stated their reasons for not following the northern approach in a slightly longer form than they did at the time of the consultation.
Yes, parish councils were influenced by the campaign of CBRR. But that’s because CBRR were making, and continue to make, good arguments for their northern approach to Cambridge.
The next most common response from parishes (17%) was to say that the consultation did not provide enough information to express a preference.
So nearly three quarters of the responses did not support any of the southern options A to E. Shouldn’t that tell EWR Co. that they need to think hard about the next step in the consultation process?
In recent correspondence with EWR Co. we were informed that they intend to present more analysis of the northern approach to Cambridge in their next consultation as they consult on detailed route alignments in the option E area. It seems that they have not listened to the feedback from the parishes at all.
There was a meeting of the Cambridge Approaches oversight group of parish councils on the 11th February 2021. We discussed the concept of sending a joint letter to the rail minister and transport secretary with the same text as the petition. No one spoke against the idea. The letter was subsequently ratified by parish councils and the resulting letter was sent to Chris Heaton-Harris and Grant Shapps on the 23rd February 2021. Click download to see the letter and its signatories from Cambourne town council to Trumpington resident’s association.
If you agree that we need a fair consultation on an approach to Cambridge north please sign the petition.
EWR Co. say there was a full consultation on this in 2019 and remind us that legally they didn’t have to do a consultation at all. The message from EWR Co.analysis of the consultation results is that option E is popular.
Was the 2019 consultation a fair consultation on a northern approach to Cambridge? Well …
parishes north of the A428 were not consulted
the northern approach was presented in the context of (flawed) reasons why it should not be adopted
very few people were aware of the consultation in the option E area and highly affected parishes such as The Shelfords were not consulted.
there were no consultation meetings in the option E area between Cambourne and Gt. Shelford
results on the approach to Cambridge were mixed up with the Cambourne vs Bassingbourn station issue.
We intend to come back to the consultation results and the popularity of Option E in the 2019 consultation in a future post.
The petition calling for a fair consultation has now passed 7000 signatures which is the same as the total number of people that responded to the EWR Co. 2019 consultation with any view.
As the CBRR petition passes 6400, pressure is increasing on EWR Co. to openly review the northern approach to Cambridge. They do seem to be uniting opinion in many parts of South Cambridgeshire that this north south consultation needs to happen. Here is a survey of some recent news on this.
Anthony Browne MP
Anthony Brown MP published this letter to residents on Friday 5th February 2021. Note in particular this paragraph.
“I have heard the arguments in favour of the northern approach option and find them persuasive. I certainly think that it warrants full consideration, and that the public should have a say on this option. I cannot say whether a northern or southern approach will be best for EWR. That is a decision that must be made by EWR depending on the evidence, detailed scoping work and outcome of public consultations. My aim is to ensure that both the northern and southern options are properly considered and consulted on. This will not only ensure that the best decision can be made, but also that the public can have confidence in the process. “
CA are currently working with Anthony Browne’s office on this common objective.
BCN Wildlife Trust
On the 9th February 2021, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire Wildlife Trust (BCN WT) re-affirmed its support for a northern approach to Cambridge here. They are still asking why a Strategic Environmental Assessment has never been performed (beyond the trite and bizarre reason that EWR Co. do not consider themselves under a legal obligation to do so because they have no programme or plan).
The result of this omission is that while the BCN WT, the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England and even Natural England are all indicated in their consultation responses that a northern route would be better for the environment, EWR Co. are asserting with little or no evidence that Option E is better.
Is this a good way to spend £6.5billion of taxpayers money? Cambridge deserves to be treated better than this.
We are rather hoping that when the petition is circulated to the 34,000 BCN WT members, then some more people will become aware of the issue and sign it.
Cambourne Town Council
At a recent meeting of some northern parishes in Anthony Browne’s constituency, the chairman, Joe O’Dwyer, affirmed his support for an EWR route into Cambridge North. He also reported that the new Programme Delivery Director at EWR Co. had said “there were no technical or cost reasons not to approach Cambridge from the north”. This is a very sensible statement.
But it is rather in contrast to the now rather discredited rebuttal of the CBRR route in §16 of EWR Co.s Route Option Report. This is the report that talks about trains having to turn around in Cambridge and additional costs. Both claims have been dismissed on this blog and elsewhere more than once and many times to EWR Co. for a long time, but they don’t change the record.
Trouble in Bedford
The good people of Bedford have successfully petitioned their council to debate the route of EWR. Like us they have realised the possibility of freight trains rumbling through central Bedford at night and are not happy at the prospect. Here is a report on the debate held there earlier in the week. They have also noticed that while Option E was the most expensive at the time of the 2019 consultation, it became the second cheapest in the 2020 Route Option Report. Maybe they have been reading this post.
You may have noticed the press coverage on 23rd January 2021 about the East West MainLine (“EWML”) based on this press release from the Department for Transport (DfT). It’s about funding to complete the renovation of the old line from Bicester to Bletchley in the Western Section of the East West MainLine. You can hear Grant Shapps’ short You Tube video about it here. It clearly does not relate to the substantially new Central Section between Bedford and Cambridge.
The funding commitment for Bicester to Bletchley was announcedin the Chancellor’s Autumn 2020 Spending Review (see page 38). The new information on the 23rd January 2021 is just the actual amount to be spent.
So why is the DfT recycling old news?
The announcement comes at the end this week’s Spotlight East West Main Line 2021 conference which also was set up to promote EWML. The presentations are still available online. So, the DfT press release is clearly part of the choreography.
There were conference presentations on Monday from England’s Economic Heartland and Transport East. When the conference moderator asked them what they saw as the main hurdle for the EWML, they both replied that it was securing funding from HM Treasury. In fact, it emerged that this was one of the main reasons for the conference’s promotion of the EWML scheme this week.
Later in the week, the Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris very honestly explained some of the hurdles that he faced in getting more funding from HM Treasury. He said that “49% of DfT funding went toward 2% of the journeys – and that’s rail”. He also said that currently “the Treasury has many calls on its shallow pockets”.
Readers of this blog will know that we are also concerned that the taxpayer really gets value for money from the EWML. This is not unconditional opposition to the scheme, but just a demand that EWR Co. really demonstrates the business case for it and shows that they have optimised the route around the constraints produced by that business case. For example, if it supports freight, then we need to consider the impact on communities, if it’s about commuting to the nearest city, make sure this is maximized, if it’s about the fastest end-to-end transit, draw a straight line from Oxford to Cambridge.
If you divide the total cost of the Central Section by the population between Bedford and Cambridge in 2019 prices it comes out at around £9,000 per household. We are all big stakeholders in this. So, how is the business case looking for the Central Section?
It emerged in the conference that the EWR Consortium do not have a published business case for the EWML. Perhaps EWR Co. / DfT have one?
CA have to report that we have not seen any of the following from EWR Co.:
a housing plan associated with the route
an environmental impact assessment across route options
a plan to co-ordinate with other transport schemes around Cambridge
credible explanations of Benefit to Cost Ratio calculations across options
proper analysis of a Northern Approach to Cambridge
honest impact assessment of the forecast long term 30% drop in passenger numbers post-Covid announced at the conference.
The Rail Freight Group did present interesting information at the conference to show how the freight traffic demand has already bounced back since the start of the pandemic. See Figure 1.
Of course, while this is good news for the freight industry, those poor people to trying to make a passenger rail business case are not in such a strong position.
One thing we did think was settled was that the Central Section would be freight capable. This was because of the “substantive answer” to an earlier question from CA to EWR Co.. However, it became clear that Maggie Simpson from the Rail Freight Group speaking at this week’s conference was working under that assumption that the Central Section would not support freight. Also Kerry Allen, a planner from Suffolk County Council said that freight plans were at an early stage.
Chris Heaton-Harris then “clarified” the situation by saying that it was “up for grabs” whether the Central Section would be freight capable.
As regards passenger usage, Maria Cliff, EWR Co. Head of Operations explained that they had developed “personas” for the types of rail passenger that they would serve.
Really good to see that EWR Co. are starting to get to grips with who will actuallyuse the railway, this should have been published years ago. Notice the lack of the “Rapid Roy” persona who really needs a regular 90-minute transit from Oxford to Cambridge or indeed “Freight Operator Freddie”. It does make sense that the everyday users are commuters and schoolchildren, going to their nearest city. We strongly agree about school children so many 6thformers from around the county go to school in Cambridge.We believe that with the addition of a Northstowe station, the northern approach to Cambridge is likely to serve commuters better than Option E as clearly explained by CBRR’s Sebastian Kindersley here.
There are definitely benefits from building the Central Section but, given the amounts of money involved and the uncertainties around the business case, is EWR Co.’s plan imminently to launch a consultation on detailed route alignments in the option E area really sensible? If you are not sure please signthis petition.