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Business Case

A Trip to Bedford

It's National Black Cat Appreciation Day!
Is this the Key to Understanding the EWR Business Case or Just an Excuse for a Cat Photograph?

East West Rail’ Co.’s Strategy Director, Will Gallagher recently said “with some uncertainty around the Arc of course we continue to look at our business case and when you lead into a big decision like route alignment we are also updating our business case that is something that is live as well” [1]. That’s a good thing because, I don’t understand the business case for the railway either.

EWR is a 100 mph railway optimised for intercity or inter-town transport rather than local trips. I decided to see if I could understand the offer that EWR could give people for transport between Cambridge and Bedford.
After the school run this morning, I drove from Cambridge station to Bedford Midland Road station. In terms of trip choice, station to station is about the kindest you can be to the railway since the railway then has no first and last mile penalty – road is usually door to door anyway. I left Cambridge station at 08:47 and arrived at Bedford Midland station in 57 minutes.
It took a ridiculous 15 minutes to get out of Cambridge on the A603, then up the M11 to the A428. The traffic was flowing freely coming in from Cambourne. Then dual carriageway all the way to Bedford except for the Caxton Gibbet to Black Cat roundabout stretch. I arrived in Bedford, got off the A421 and onto Cardington road. I was held up by road works. The new Bedford Midland station is not on Midland Road, but on nearby Ashburnham Road. I have a video on my dash cam of the whole trip for what it’s worth.
The Network Rail analysis (p.44) says 60 minutes peak journey time on the road and 48 minutes for the “generalised journey time” on the EWR (allowing for the time spent waiting for the next train).  So EWR wins by 12 minutes (or 9 minutes in my case this morning).
10 minutes of those precious 12 minutes of EWR rail benefit will go when the Caxton Gibbet to Black Cat dual carriageway is built. I also need to allow for the time it would have taken for me to find a parking place at Cambridge station – there were none visible this morning, but there were probably some places further away. Then there is the time to buy a parking ticket and a rail ticket. Conclusion, even station to station EWR will not bring a time advantage between Cambridge and Bedford.

The marginal cost in my electric car is around 6p per mile. By the time the railway gets going, electric cars will hopefully be common and the electricity grid will be mostly renewables/nuclear. Looking at peak Thameslink return fares it works out around  55p per mile on rail (I looked at Bedford to St. Pancras and St. Albans to St. Pancras fares on line). Let’s assume that EWR will be similar (the cost per mile will be more expensive than Thameslink, since usage will be lower and construction costs need to be recovered). Then add the £12.50 peak cost of parking my car at Cambridge station. So, assuming a round 30 miles there and 30 miles back I get a £33 return fare + £12.50 parking = £45.50 by rail. By electric car it’s £3.60 plus parking – if I need it. In marginal cost terms, it’s more than 10x more expensive by rail (see note 1 below). But hey, I get to relax on the train and use my laptop.


This really isn’t a compelling proposition for a service with a £5+ billion capital cost plus the on-going subsidy which the taxpayer will continue to have to pay for operating the EWR. Would you invest in this personally? Well, we don’t have to decide because the Department for Transport will decide for all of us taxpayers, so just relax and keep paying the taxes.

Yes, there will be people that don’t have cars, that live and work near stations despite the lack of a regional spatial framework for the EWR. But as more and more conditions are needed to make the offer for EWR beneficial, the number of people that actually benefit from the railway gets smaller and smaller and the business case fades away.

If you have not seen it, have a look at my recent presentation on the search for a business case for the railway here.

References

[1] Westminster Social Policy Forum, “The Future of the Oxford-Cambridge Arc” 27th April 2022.

Note

Since I cannot go everywhere by public transport, I have to have a car. Having bought the car, then I look at the cost of using rail in marginal terms as above. On the other hand if I could do without a car, then I would be deciding on whether to buy one. I paid around £20,000 for the electric car and expect it to do 100,000 miles. Add in £5,000 for servicing and I arrive at 25p/mile plus the 6p/mile electricity cost. Over all 31p/mile and still a lot less than rail. (Thanks to Anne for this aspect).

Categories
Business Case

Network Rail EWML Strategic Statement

Network Rail recently published an East West Mainline Strategic Statement.

In it they compared the journey times from two sizeable cities on the line: Milton Keynes and Bedford; to a variety of other locations in a band from East Anglia to Cardiff and Southampton 

a) by rail currently (mainly via London) 

b) by rail after the Oxford to Cambridge railway has been completed (Configuration State 3)

c) by car at peak time.

They use a concept called Generalised Journey Time (GJT) which allows time for changing trains and the average time to wait for the next train. GJT does not allow any time for getting to and from the station or sorting out a place to park the car and to get a bus/taxi etc at the far end. That’s fine if you happen to live near a station and want to go somewhere else that happens to be near one. This is far from being always the case and I would estimate that on the average we should add around at least 15 minutes at each end for this. Travelling by car is a really tough competitor to rail as the data shows, especially in towns where local transport is not up to London standards – and that’s most of them.

Figure 8 Generalised Journey Times from Milton Keynes: Source Network Rail
Figure 11 Generalised Journey Times from Bedford: Source Network Rail

The bar charts show the GJT after the EWR has been built from Oxford to Cambridge (blue); the reduction in GJT from before the EWR was built(orange); the transit time by car in peak times (grey) taken from Google maps and the difference (yellow). A negative difference means that the EWR is quicker than going by car, but as previously stated this takes no account of the time to get to the stations at each end of the journey. So many of the differences are in favour of the car. Cars are really tough to beat – or looking at it another way, our towns and villages are built around the car.

Network Rail make the case that where EWR might show bigger advantages over road (and rail going via London) would be on longer trips where the speed of the railway starts to overcome the overheads to get on it in the first place. However, EWRCo.’s current proposed service schedule does not include long distance services, you have to change trains to get on the EWR and change to get off it again. In many cases, these two changes wipe out the benefit compared to going via London. Network Rail recommend provision for significant extra infrastructure at Oxford and Cambridge to facilitate these long-distance through services.

This all seems desperately fundamental to the unpublished business case for the EWR.

Incidentally, Network Rail also re-state their ambition to have 50 freight trains per day on the EWR and as we have previously remarked this has not really featured in the EWR Co. design for the route although it does loom large in my imagination.

Recently, EWR Co. seem to be heading the other way and portraying the EWR as more of a local commuter solution for example in the press release associated with the appointment of their new CEO Beth West.

The new East West Rail line currently under construction, promises new, much needed connections for communities between Oxford and Cambridge including Bedford, Milton Keynes, Bletchley and Bicester. The line will provide reliable public transport in the area – the lack of which is holding people back from enjoying their region, restricts access to good jobs and has created bubbles of inaccessible, expensive housing.”

If it has moved from a fast Oxford to Cambridge intercity service for scientists and business people creating new break through vaccines, to a local commuter solution, why have there been no changes to the actual proposals or the requirements from the sponsor (presumably the new rail minister)? I think this is more about presentation than substance. It’s still an intercity service.

I will be talking more about the EWR business case along with Professor David Rogers talking about the OxCam Arc at this event hosted by the Stop The Arc Group on Thursday 21st April at 7.30pm on zoom. Register on Eventbrite to attend.

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Business Case news

A Letter to the Transport Secretary

Official portrait of Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP crop 2.jpg
Rt. Hon. Grant Shapps MP, The Secretary of State for Transport.

Julia Virdee from Chesterton Mews, Bedford appeared on BBC Look East 18th March 2022. She was standing next to her home and explained to the BBC reporter that it might be demolished by the Bedford to Cambridge section of the East West Railway (EWR CS). 

She said that she didn’t really understand why they were building the railway.

There are thousands of people like Julia all the way from Bedford to Cambridge. Some have the threat of compulsory purchase and demolition, many more have the prospect of living close to huge embankments and viaducts or the destruction of one of their favourite places.  They all have the prospect of years of disruption during the construction phase. 

Maybe you are one of these people, in which case this post is for you.

Here at Cambridge Approaches we have been trying to understand the business case for the new Bedford to Cambridge section of the EWR since we started in the summer of 2020. It’s easier to live with the prospect of the arrival of the new railway in our communities, if we can actually understand the business case. If it’s actually about property agents, like Bidwells and their “unbelievable number of foreign investors” making profitable investments in the OxCam Arc then I am really not sure how that will help Julia. To be clear we are not against development in line with the average UK population growth, we just don’t see the need for the sort of transformational growth called for in the OxCam Arc project leading to a 50% increase on the population of the area by 2050 and this survey shows that we are not unusual. That’s what the EWR is there to support, if that’s not going to happen then the hugely expensive central section surely shouldn’t happen either. 

We have tried asking EWR Co. and the Department for Transport for the business case, sending freedom of information requests, getting Cambridgeshire County Council to write on our behalf to find out the status after the no show in the autumn spending review and so far, we have not a lot to report. Essentially, they say “we are looking at it and it’s jolly complicated”. Also, that they are not ready to share anything. Reading between the lines, and speaking frankly, we think they are struggling to justify it. It’s not easy to make a marginal business case and the people working for EWR Co. must know that the jobs[1] of people they work with may depend on it getting through. 

The relentless BFARe campaigners in Bedford, hit on the idea of writing to the government via their MP, Richard Fuller. Apparently, protocol dictates that ministers have to reply to MPs. They actually got a response from the Rail Minister with new information. She was expecting to review the case for the EWR CS in May 2022 (see Figure 1). Blimey. Amazing.

Figure 1 Last Paragraph of Letter from Rail Minister to Richard Fuller MP

So, obviously, we approached our MP Anthony Browne’s office, who said he was up for forwarding a letter asking for the business case and suggested that we ask around to see what other organisations would support it. The result was the following letter. 

“To: The Rt. Hon Grant Shapps MP, Secretary of State for Transport
by email

15/3/2022 

Dear Secretary of State, 

East West Rail Central Section (EWR CS) – Bedford to Cambridge Business Case

We write as a group of parish councils, councillors, environmental groups and residents of South Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire and Central Bedfordshire. 

We are alarmed that, despite the design for this section having been worked on for several years and construction costings having been produced, at no time has EWR Co. made their business case public.

In a letter dated 2nd February 2022 the East West Rail Team confirmed that “EWR is a key project for supporting the delivery of the Government’s objectives for the Oxford Cambridge Arc.” However, the flagship Levelling Up White Paper published on the same day makes no mention of the Oxford Cambridge Arc; and indeed, specifically excludes the Oxford/Cambridge/London Golden Triangle as a search area for further investment.  

In January 2020 the EWR CS benefit to cost ratio was stated at an extremely low value of 0.64. Since then, a number of factors would lead us to think that the BCR can have only worsened. There is no housing planned around EWR stations in the update to the Greater Cambridge proposed Local Plan 2021; there is no published incremental business case for freight; there is no evidence that post-pandemic inter-city passenger numbers will be anything like as before and local commuter traffic numbers and patterns are unknown; the EWR CS was not mentioned in SR21. Lastly, the electrification or “hydrogenation” of the line will add significantly to the cost.  

If this project is to continue then a positive business case needs to be published.  If this project is not to continue then it needs to be stopped now, lifting a planning blight that impacts many communities, thousands of people and to prevent wasting millions of pounds on current project costs.  

We believe that the time has come for EWR Co. to publish a business case; and the purpose of this letter is to ask you, as Minister responsible, to direct EWR Co. to do so.  

List of Supporting Organisations

Arrington Parish Council
Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire Wildlife Trusts
Bedford For A Re-consultation (BFARe)
Barrington Parish Council
Barton Parish Council
Bourn Parish Council
Boxworth Parish Council
Cam Bed Rail Road Action Group
Cam Valley Forum
Cambridge Approaches Action Group
Comberton Parish Council
Countryside Restoration Trust
CPRE Cambridgeshire and Peterborough
CPRE Bedfordshire
Caldecote Parish Council
Clapham Parish Council, Bedfordshire
Croxton Park
Croxton Parish Council
Croydon Parish Council
Dry Drayton Parish Council
Elsworth Parish Council
Fowlmere Parish Council
Gamlingay Parish Council
Great Shelford Parish Council
Guilden Morden Parish Council
Harlton Parish Council
Harston Parish Council
Harston Residents Association
Haslingfield Village Society
Haslingfield Parish Council
Hatley Estates
Hauxton Parish Council
Litlington Parish Council
Little Shelford Parish Council
Kingston Parish Council
Knapwell Parish Council
Madingley Parish Council
Melbourn Parish Council
Meldreth Parish Council
Newton Parish Council
Oakington Transport Action Group
Orwell Parish Council
St. Neots Town Council
Stapleford Parish Council
Steeple Morden Parish Council
Stop The OxCam Arc Group 
The Eversdens Parish Council
Toft Parish Council
Trumpington Residents’ Association
Wimpole Parish Council
Yelling Parish Council

List of Supporting Individuals

Cllr Michael Atkins, Cambridgeshire County Council (Lib Dem) 
Cllr Sam Davies, City Councillor, Queen Edith’s Ward (part of the South Cambs. constituency) (Independent)
Cllr Peter Fane, South Cambridgeshire District Council (Lib Dem)
Cllr Stephen Ferguson, Chairman Cambridgeshire County Council and Mayor of St. Neots (Independent)
Kevin Hand, Ecologist, Board member and former president Cambridge Natural History Society
Cllr Mark Howell, Cambridgeshire County Council (Conservative)

Cllr Sebastian Kindersley, Vice Chairman, Cambridgeshire County Council (Lib Dem)
Cllr Maria King, Cambridgeshire County Council (Lib Dem)
Cllr Lina Nieto, former Cambridgeshire County Council (Conservative)
Sir Michael Oliver, Deputy Lieutenant of Cambs. and former Lord Mayor of the City of London
Cllr Mandy Smith, Cambridgeshire County Council (Conservative)
Cllr Firouz Thompson, Cambridgeshire County Council (Lib Dem)
Cllr Ian Sollom, South Cambridgeshire District Council (Lib Dem)
Cllr Susan Van De Ven, Cambridgeshire County Council (Lib Dem)
Cllr Aiden Van De Weyer, South Cambridgeshire District Council (Lib Dem)
Cllr Dr. Richard Williams, South Cambridgeshire District Council (Conservative)
Cllr Nick Wright, South Cambridgeshire District Council (Conservative)”

The team of us that asked for support for the letter found the process really heartening. We are so grateful for the show of solidarity. Organisations and Councillors all over South Cambridgeshire supported it as did people further afield in St. Neots and Bedford. We have different issues about the route proposals, but all of us need to better understand why this is such a good idea. We would be surprised if the government feel they can ignore this level of support.

There is a second aspect to the letter. If EWRCo. cannot justify the project it needs to be stopped, so that the blight on the thousands of residents is removed and the EWR Co. employees can work on a better project. Given the other burning issues facing the government it would be immoral to spend public money on a project that does not have a good business case.

The Cambridge Independent covered the story of our letter in this week’s edition. They asked others for their opinions. Solid support from the MP and the suggestion that other more local transport solutions be looked at. The EWR Co. spokesperson said “Business cases for major infrastructure programmes are complex and are developed over time, consistent with the large amount of evidence gathering that is required.” In other words the same old, “we are looking at it and its jolly complicated.” 

But the EWR Co. spokesperson also switched from saying that the project was part of the OxCam Arc to saying that it “is an important part of levelling up outside London”. If EWR Co.’s spokesperson thinks that the area between Bedford and Cambridge is included in the levelling up white paper, then I don’t think they have actually looked at what it says. The diagram below is taken from the white paper and might help them.

Figure 2 Regions that need levelling up do not include the OxCam Arc: Source Levelling Up White Paper 2nd February 2022

Note that the Bedford to Cambridge region has zero measures in the bottom quartile.

Our letter was forwarded by Anthony Browne’s office to the Transport Secretary on 15th March 2022. Let’s see what response he gets.

If EWR Co. (and Network Rail before them) can’t justify the business case now after working on it for so many years, then the Bedford to Cambridge section of the EWR needs to be stopped. 


[1] Incidentally, the median salary of employees at EWRCo. In the year to March 2021 was £90,000 up 20% on the previous year. See their financial reports on companies house. (p. 72).

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news

Outstanding Information Requests to EWR Co.

“[EWR Co.’s] drive to put Community Right at the Heart of the new East West Rail Connection” Source: EWR Co. Community Hub – Why Would our Community be Worried About That?

Background: Encounters with a Boondoggle

During the 2021 consultation, Cambridge Approaches requested some more information from EWR Co. to inform our response. Despite considerable efforts from EWR Co. and ourselves, previous experience with trying to get useful answers from EWR Co. led us to try instead getting legal help from lawyers Leigh Day in drafting the key information requests. Around the time that the consultation closed, all our requests were refused. EWR Co. said that the requests were “vexatious” and “manifestly unreasonable” and that the public interest lay in refusal. They reached this conclusion not just by reviewing the actual requests, but looking at the correspondence that they had received from Cambridge Approaches and anybody they judged might have been in contact with us over the previous year or so. They also looked at minutes of parish council meetings discussing the EWR. It seemed anything but focussing on the information we had actually asked for. We appealed the decision after the consultation had closed because we felt that this information was still important and to give EWR Co. a chance to review their decision when they were not in the middle of the consultation. Unfortunately, their internal review response was very similar to the first one. We have referred the matter to the Information Commissioner’s Office who have undertaken to review it. There is six month long queue at the ICO. Sadly it seems our experience with this process is not unusual.

I have copied the information that we requested in the letter drafted by Leigh Day below. What do you think? Are they manifestly unreasonable? Are they vexatious? Or were we just trying to understand the underlying information behind the options they had considered for the railway’s approach to Cambridge? I was there and can tell you that our intention was the latter. On our side we hope to resume a more constructive dialog with EWR Co.

Our Outstanding Requests for Information from May 2021

Request 1: EWR is asked to provide the information constituting the “high-level environmental appraisal” of the nine Route Alignment Options and the proposed northern approach

Request 2: Insofar as it is not covered by request 1, EWR is asked to provide the information upon which it relies in concluding that it is “confident” that the detailed design can mitigate any impacts on the Wimpole and Eversden Woods SAC. Such information is to include the impacts identified and the mitigations considered.

Request 3: EWR is asked to provide the information constituting the “operational analysis” on which it relies in concluding that the northern approach proposed in appendix F of the Second Consultation Document would require the provision of a four-track railway in section NA2.

Request 4: EWR is asked to provide the information upon which it relies in concluding that the Shepreth Branch Royston Line could remain as a twin track railway from the new Hauxton Junction to the Shepreth Branch Junction.

Request 5: EWR is asked to provide the information on which it relies in concluding that no “significant alterations” will be needed to the bridge where the Shepreth Branch Royston Line crosses under the A1301. Such information is to extend (insofar as it has been considered) to both a two and four-track approach to the Shepreth Branch Line and to the grade-separated junction that EWR considers may be needed at Shepreth Branch Junction

Request 6: EWR is asked to provide the information it holds in respect of any assessment of the number of properties that would need to be demolished if the portion of the Shepreth Branch Royston Line from the Hauxton Junction to the Shepreth Branch Junction were to require works to increase the number of tracks 

Request 7: EWR is asked to provide any non-public information provided to it by Network Rail or other organisations, or any assessment it has itself undertaken, which leads to the conclusion that there may be demand by 2043/2044 for around 24 freight trains per day on the line between Bedford and Cambridge. Such information is to include any quantification of the current freight use of the Shepreth Branch Royston Line and the West Anglia Main Line.

Request 8: EWR is asked to explain the need in principle for the viaducts, cuttings, and embankments between Cambourne and Hauxton Junction on the southern approach

Request 9: EWR is asked to provide any engineering long section drawings which it has produced to assess the northern approach.  If no such drawings exist, EWR is asked to provide (a) the length of viaduct; (b) length in cutting; and, (c) length on embankment of its proposed northern approach.

Request 10: Insofar as EWR has already undertaken this assessment, EWR is asked to provide a list of the roads which will be permanently severed or otherwise obstructed by each of the Route Alignment Options comprised in the southern approach (Cambourne through to Cambridge station)

Request 11: EWR is asked to provide the information constituting the updated “cost estimates” provided by Network Rail and Atkins referred to in the Second Consultation Technical Report at 5.4.12, and any such cost estimates produced subsequent to those referred to in that paragraph. Such estimates are not to be limited to the figures, and should (insofar as they exist) include the explanation of the estimates provided by Network Rail and Atkins

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Business Case

Has Work Been Suspended on the Central Section of the EWR?

Dear Mr Gallagher

I am writing to you instead of Simon Blanchflower as I understand that he is retiring from his position at EWR Co.

Can you confirm that work on the central section (CS) of the East West Railway has now been suspended?

I ask because there are many people living on or near the preferred route that are now in a state of limbo, which they fear will drag on for years as dates in the planning process seem to be slipping and slipping. We need to be able to get on with our lives. Cambridgeshire County Council asked the Department for Transport a similar question after the Autumn Spending Review and as of this month have received no reply.

As you know the estimated cost of the preferred route in your words “matured” during 2019 as a result of more accurate work from Faithful and Gould. This resulted in a 3x cost increase for the preferred route area from January 2019 to January 2020. The benefit to cost ratio of the central section published in January 2020 was low and the following things have happened since:

  • Commitment to the EWR CS was conspicuous by its absence from the 2021 autumn spending review (SR21) which covers the next few years. In contrast, the work on the A428 was explicitly mentioned. This was flagged as a problem by the EWR ML partnership and the EEH both before and after SR21.
  • Significant additional work was identified in 4-tracking into Cambridge on the southern approach, together with 6-tracking and housing demolition in Bedford in the 2021 consultation document and no revised costing was published.
  • Considerable local opposition to the emerging preferred route has been expressed all along the route from Bedford through St. Neots to Cambridge – the petition for a proper consultation on a northern approach to Cambridge stands at over 12,000.
  • The wider benefits of the land value increase around new EWR CS stations due to the OxCam Arc look like they will not occur due to the shift in focus of the government to levelling up outside of London and the South East. This was confirmed by Mr. Gove on the Radio 4 Today Programme on the 10th January 2022. When asked about the much-delayed levelling up white paper, he said that the decision had been made at the time of the spending review and that the aim was to “get every part of the UK operating at the level that London and the South East currently do”. He also mentioned a preference for housing on brown field sites – hardly consistent with some of the new EWR station locations. Where does that leave the OxCam Arc upon which the yet-to-be-published EWR CS business case apparently depends? I note that the leader of the OxCam Arc team in Whitehall, Kris Krasnowski was redeployed to the Scottish Office in July 2021. 
  • Local housing plans such as the one in Greater Cambridge have taken no account of the EWR CS station locations.
  • Passenger rail numbers continue to be depressed and there are continued signs of a permanent shift in behaviour after the pandemic to more home working. There are press reports of plans to lay off rail staff in their thousands.
  • No one has demonstrated that freight traffic on the central section will move the needle on the business case for the CS. However, freight, especially on elevated track continues to cause great anxiety for people living near the emerging preferred route, both near the proposed great embankments and viaducts and in the city and town centres. The emerging preferred route is really not great for freight.
  • Perhaps at the insistence of past members of central government, EWR Co. continue to emphasize the importance of rapid transit from Oxford to Cambridge even though common sense and I believe your own forecasts say that most of the passenger traffic will be local.  As a result, the business case for a more local railway may be more favourable.

These considerations fuel my concern that you will not find a good business case for the central section. I look forward to your answer to my question in bold at the start of this letter.

Yours faithfully

Dr. William Harrold

Co-founder Cambridge Approaches.

Categories
Business Case Ecology Route Alignments

OxCam Arc, Local Plan Update and the EWR Central Section

 

Growing up on the Cam in 2021

I hope that you all had a good break. Since our last blog post in June we have been able to read some of the responses to the EWR consultation; read the new OxCam Arc consultation and looked at the proposed update to the Greater Cambridge Local Plan. A disconnect between EWR Co.’s preferred railway alignment and the housing plan is continuing to emerge and we will illustrate this in this blog post.

If you want to make your voice heard about the OxCam Arc (of which EWR is a part) one thing you can do is to have a look at the 5 minute questionnaire put together by a group called StopTheArc – it asks some of the  fundamental questions not in the  official MHCLG consultation. They were kind enough to ask Cambridge Approaches to review it before publishing.

Still No Published Business Case

One of the things we do on this Cambridge Approaches blog is to ask questions about the business case for the central section of the EWR.

We know from EWR Co.’s Preferred Route Option Report published in January 2020 that the estimated total cost was £5.6Bn (having risen from £1.9Bn a year earlier) and, since we understand that this will be funded by the taxpayer, it’s not unreasonable for us to ask for the business case. For comparison, would the EWR Co. management team get very far in raising £5.6Bn on Dragon’s Den if, after working on their project since 2018, they still won’t share a business case with the people that they want to fund it? Put another way, they are taking us for granted.

For the record, the public line on the lack of business case from EWR Co. in response to our Freedom of Information request at the start of 2021, was that public servants need a safe space and that it is not normal for a business case to be published at this stage. People are sufficiently disturbed by the proposals so that they received 190,000 responses to the 2021 consultation, but it’s too early to publish the case for the project.  Really?

This questioning of the business case was followed by Anthony Browne MP asking about the effect of COVID on travel patterns which will likely permanently reduce passenger numbers by 40% as people have learnt to work from home. EWR Co.’s recent video from EWR Co on the 23rd August 2021 talks about this problem (see 3:07 into the video) without any convincing resolution. Covid-19 will pass, but the technology that allows people to work from home is here to stay and employee expectations have now changed. 

As EWR Co point out (video 2:36), the hope is that people will move into the area to live and work and set up businesses so it might be that this influx of people will to some extent counteract the others working from home. Indeed, the NIC report “Partnering for Prosperity” set out a target of 1.1 million additional jobs in the area by 2050 corresponding to about 2 million more people and 1 million more homes. We assume that the focus of this growth is intended to be along the EWR around the initial stations and any new ones that are added over the lifetime of the railway. (If not what is the point of the railway exactly?) The  impact of this on existing residents will be higher than that of the railway alone.

The second EWR consultation ended in June 2021 and we still have a lot of unanswered questions.  Looking at the consultation responses from bodies like the South Cambridgeshire District Council and the Cambridgeshire County Council, we were not the only ones with outstanding questions. You can read the Cambridge Approaches consultation response here and some others here.

In the Cambridgeshire County Council 2021 EWR consultation response we find the following: 

GrowthThe East West Rail Central Section should support growth and enable sustainable transport patterns to be realised from that growth. The detailed alignment of the Central Section should be considered alongside the consideration of appropriate locations for growth in the Ox-Cam Arc, and the appropriate scale of that growth. The strategy for station provision on the Central Section must be informed by the consideration of appropriate locations for growth. 

This is an appeal for the route alignment of the EWR central section and its station locations to follow a co-ordinated housing plan.

South Cambridgeshire District Councils 2021 EWR consultation response says: 

Significant further work is still needed to understand the localised impacts of the scheme, the options for mitigation, their effectiveness and implementation including the sequencing with wider strategic infrastructure and development. 

Again, they are concerned that the railway is not aligned with the housing and economic plan for the area.

So, some of the outstanding questions centre on how the route relates to other plans for the area e.g. for economic growth, housing and local transport. Unfortunately for all concerned, the EWR Co. management team are not in a good place to answer these questions because they are being pushed by the Department for Transport to get the route defined in advance of key decisions by other bodies.  This heightens the risk that EWR will not choose the right approach which will be to the detriment of its business case, local residents and potential users of the service.

Train Wreck in St. Neots

EWR Co.‘s Simon Blanchflower post consultation press release celebrated the scale of response:

The number of responses we’ve received, the breadth of information and level of detail they contain demonstrates the value of consulting with local people at an early stage, and the huge level of public interest in East West Rail.

But a strong response should not be taken as meaning respondents are in favour of what is being proposed.

A good example this and of the railway alignment not taking account of the housing plan can be found in the St. Neots Town Council Response to the EWR consultation which is, broadly, that they are furious.

We are surprised that EWR has aligned its preferred routes in close proximity to one of the largest housing developments in the East of England. None of the five corridors considered in the first phase of the consultation included this land, and the late inclusion has come as a shock to residents, housing developers and St Neots Town Council.

St Neots Town Council is opposed to the construction of these viaducts and asks EWR to urgently reconsider plans to align these routes with the eastern edge of our town.

EWR are proposing 12m high viaducts through St. Neots East reminiscent of the Great Wall they have proposed between Cambourne and Hauxton. There is also no station at St. Neots, maybe that is because of the Tempsford development, but since we don’t even have a vision for the OxCam Arc Spatial framework who knows? More to the point how do EWR Co. know?

Greater Cambridge Shared Planning (GCSP) Local Plan

On the 31st August 2021 an update to the local plan was published.  It is currently under consideration by councillors and will not open to public consultation until later in the year (November?). The updated plan will run to 2041 (previously it ran from 2011-2031). 

Figure 1 shows an overview map of the developments proposed.

Figure 1 Local Plan Update – Overview

Note that no new housing development is proposed around Cambridge South Station, despite this being one of the repeated justifications for the southern approach to Cambridge for the EWR. This diminishes both the justification for the EWR southern approach route and the business case for the central section of the railway. In contrast, significant new development around the northern route proposed by CBRR is confirmed and developments in Northstowe and Waterbeach are to be accelerated together with new brown field developments to the north and east of Cambridge.

The Mythical Houses Around Cambridge South Station

The myth of significant housing growth around Cambridge South Station has been discussed in a recent letter from a local resident to local District Councillors as follows:

“…the county council’s 2019 response to EWR Co (repeated in the third bullet of paragraph 2.3 of the covering note to the draft response) said ” The ability of EWR services to … provide for the very significant planned economic and housing growth in the south of the city including at the Cambridge Biomedical Campus”.  This was an odd statement in 2019, given that the county council is not the planning authority, and it was, at the time, not evident from the Local Plan what housing development the county council had in mind in saying this.  It appears even odder now, given the variety of housing development options under consideration by Greater Cambridge Shared Planning (“GCSP”)  – see their November 2020 development strategy options assessments and the emergence of the North East Cambridge Action Plan.  

In 2019, the constituent authorities of what is now GCSP made clear a new local plan was coming and that they would be looking at all reasonable development strategies and SCDC at least has repeated this point in its response to this consultation.  Notwithstanding this, what the county council said in 2019 appears to be understood as fact not just by EWR Co, but also by EWR Consortium.  

Among the papers for the EWR Consortium 9 June meeting (not, in fact, discussed) is this one under the heading “realising the potential of EWR” which says (emphasis added):

Cambridge South: Cambridge South [station] will be located near to Addenbrooke’s Hospital and Cambridge Biomedical Campus – key employers and site for new homes in the south of Cambridge. Planned to open in 2025, the station will be on the Cambridge line and West Anglia Main Line, and should also sit on the East West Main Line once it opens a few years later.”

It goes on to say that “The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority is working on the Outline Business Case…”.  It is not entirely clear what this outline business case is for and could be a historic priority of the former Mayor because the next paragraph of the document mentions the CAM.

It is possible that all these statements can be traced back to what the county council said in its 2019 response which may have served to lead others to believe that there were likely developments in the south of Cambridge.  It seems important for both EWR Co and EWR Consortium to understand the true position and the county council should take responsibility for doing this.”

Now would be a good time for EWR Co and EWR Consortium to review the evidence for the southern approach and the whole business case in the light of this new local plan since the local authorities are planning no new houses around either EWR station on the southern approach in Cambridgeshire all the way out to 2041. Do MHCLG people know better that the local experts about how best to develop Cambridge?

Conflicting Plans at Highfields Caldecote

One of the consequences of the EWR route being fixed in advance of related housing plans are conflicts emerging when the housing plans do come out. The detailed costing information that came out with the last consultation indicates that the preferred route had been established in outline all the way back in mid-2019. Such conflicts can no doubt be resolved by adjustments to the railway route or knocking down houses, but they are also symptomatic of the lack of co-ordination between EWR Co. and the other planning authorities. 

Here is another example of the issue. EWR Co’s preferred route goes through a station north of Cambourne and crosses the A428 with a long, skewed bridge just north of Highfields Caldecote (see blue route in Figure 2).

Figure 2 EWR Co Preferred Route Crossing the A428

However, the updated local plan has housing across the proposed route of the railway (See Figure 3).

Figure 3 GCSP Local Plan for the Same Area

Rate of Housing growth

The GCSP planners are estimating that to meet the demands of the local economy (i.e. the number of new jobs they foresee over the period) we need to add 1,771 houses per year over the next 20 years leading to a total of 48,794 houses from 2011 to 2041. This is a lot less than the 271,000 houses in the National Infrastructure Commission report (NIC Report) for this end of the EWR central section up to 2050.

It has been acknowledged that the case for the EWR central section depends on housing growth. For example, this is stated in the recent EWR video referred to earlier. In fact, it depends on the transformational housing growth put forward by the NIC report. However, if this level of growth is not going to come from the local plan where could it come from?

OxCam Arc Consultation

The Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) recently launched a consultation to help them shape the vision for the OxCam Arc. In section 5.8 of this document there is a rather hard-hitting paragraph:

“5.8 In parallel to the development of the Spatial Framework, the government is also exploring options to speed up new housing and infrastructure development in the Arc to help meet its ambitions, where evidence supports it. This includes examining (and where appropriate, developing) the case for new and/or expanded settlements in the Arc, including options informed by possible East West Rail stations between Bedford and Cambridge and growth options at Cambridge itself. The government will undertake additional Arc consultations on any specific proposals for such options as appropriate. The Spatial Framework will guide the future growth of the Arc to 2050, including on the question of new housing and infrastructure and will, as part of its development, take into consideration any significant new housing and infrastructure coming forward to meet the Arc’s ambition.”

They are reserving the right to add housing developments around EWR stations including at Cambridge itself. One assumes that, coming from central government, they would not be small developments. As pointed out by the county council it would be better for the transport infrastructure to fit around the housing plan rather than vice versa. Similar problems occur with the sites for schools and hospitals if the funding and hence the location is controlled by central government.

The housing plan proposed by GCSP considers environmental aspects by choosing dense developments often on brown field sites close in to Cambridge itself. If instead the plan is to be driven by the siting of EWR stations then these benefits will be lost. 

Water Supplies

I was looking at the flow of water in the Cam this morning on Stourbridge Common near to Cambridge North Station. Viewed from a footbridge, there were various pieces of vegetation and sticks on the surface, but none of them were moving at all. A recent episode of BBC Radio 4’s Costing the Earth explains why this is happening. The chalk aquifers that feed the rivers having accumulated water over a very long time are now running dry because so much water has been abstracted by the water companies to serve new houses. There is also a waste water capacity problem which leads to overflow events into the rivers. Plans to fix these problems are being studied, but are not expected to be in operation until the 2030s.

GCSP commissioned a study from Stantec on the Water Supply in late 2020 which states: 

For water supply, over-abstraction of the Chalk aquifer is having a detrimental impact on environmental conditions, particularly during dry years that may become more frequent due to the impacts of climate change. None of the growth scenarios considered here offer the opportunity to mitigate these existing detrimental impacts. Even without any growth, significant environmental improvements are unlikely to be achievable until major new water supply infrastructure is operational, which is unlikely to occur before the mid-2030s. Therefore, this analysis has focussed on a “no additional detriment” neutral position. To prevent any increase in abstraction and its associated detrimental environmental impacts, mitigation measures will be necessary. All stakeholders agree this should include ambitious targets for water efficiency in new development. 

If there is already a problem that won’t be fixed for 15 years why are we planning to accelerate growth in the area now?

There are also significant problems with waste water and flood risk downstream in The Fens. The campaign group Friends of the Cam has a lot more on these issues.

Discussion

In summary, the business case for the EWR central section depends on the housing growth around stations. In South Cambridgeshire the updated local plan to 2041 has accelerated housing growth in Northstowe and Waterbeach new town while Cambourne, Eddington, North East Cambridge and East Cambridge have new developments. This is not at all consistent with EWR Co.s preferred route into Cambridge south.

The level of housing growth has been objectively assessed by the planning officers to meet the needs of the area although it is not clear how the water infrastructure will cope with any more growth. It is also not clear how anyone would objectively assess housing needs – it really depends what assumptions are made. Do we want this to be a high growth area if so why? Are we trying provide more homes for London commuters? Are we trying to encourage migration into the area from other parts of the UK and abroad? Which parts of the economy are we trying to stimulate? For more in depth discussion of why the OxCam Arc is not a good idea see this article. If you would like a say try filling in this 5 minute survey.

Will MHCLG add further housing via development corporations as indicated in their consultation? Well, speaking to Eversden Parish Council recently, Bridget Smith (Leader of South Cambs. District Council) reported the housing Minister, Chris Pincher as saying that there would not be houses in addition to those that the local authorities are planning for. It would be nice to see this in writing.

We conclude that either:

(A)There is no business case for the EWR extending to Cambridge on the southern approach because it will not enable much housing growth OR

(B) Central Government need to push through large housing developments around the proposed route of EWR over and above the needs of the local economy to service additional fast economic growth in the OxCam Arc not recognised by the local planners and to serve more London commuters.

Option A is a waste of public money, option B looks like being even less popular than the railway itself and does nothing for those parts of the county that need levelling up investment.

OxCam Arc Consultations

Given the above situation, one might expect that an MHCLG consultation about the OxCam Arc vision might set out some indicative scale of development around EWR stations. It is instead phrased around prioritising various features of the plan without really setting out the core proposition. See this brief BBC South News report for some detail on the controversy around this consultation. Perhaps MHCLG are taking it a step as a time, but they are so far behind EWR Co. that their spatial framework may not be able to influence the route of EWR. MHCLG’s consultation suggests development is to be set around EWR stations no matter how poor those sites are in planning terms.

We encourage you to respond to the MHCLG consultation by October 12th. The Stop The Arc Group have some great ideas about what you might like to say here, but please also use this post to relate your response to the EWR Central Section.

The Stop The Arc Group have produced a 5 minute survey about the OxCam Arc which asks people some of the more fundamental questions about the Arc. Cambridge Approaches had some minor involvement in the development of the survey and support it. 

Please do fill in the 5-minute survey here.

One of the early results of the 5 minute survey after 1500 responses is that over 90% of people would vote against the OxCam Arc if there was a referendum.

Categories
Ecology

20th June Tour of the EWR Proposed Route

Will the EWR trains be friendlier to wildlife than this HS2 one? Find out from Kevin Hand on the 20th June.

On 20 June Kevin Hand will be doing a leisurely bike ride to some of the key wildlife sites mentioned in his Wildlife Impact Report for Cambridge Approaches and talking about the impact on them of the planned EWR Southern route and associated developments.

All welcome to come along for a chat at any point!
1030-1100 Nine Wells (Threatened)
1100 depart, cycle through Hobson’s Park (Threatened)
then via Trumpington Meadows to the Granta at Hauxton Mill (Threatened)
1200 Harston church, walk to the site of the huge viaduct over the River Rhee (Threatened)
Lunch break here.
1.30 Haslingfield church, walk to Haslingfield chalk quarry nature reserve and planned site of the Great Wall (Threatened) The orchids should be in bloom!
3pm Social gathering, Hare and Hounds, Harlton, in view of the southern route.
4pm Kevin will return to Cambridge via Toft village (Threatened) and Hardwick Wood (Threatened) finishing around 6pm

Categories
news

Bite-Sized EWR Videos

We have put together some short videos which summarise our campaign messages. Don’t forget to respond to the EWR Co. consultation which closes on June 9th 2021. Just say no to question 1!

1 – The South.
2 – Environment
3 – Freight
4 – Business Case
5 – The North

Categories
Ecology

Wildlife and Landscape Impacts of EWR’s Preferred Southern Route into Cambridge versus CBRR’s Northern Route

A Report for Cambridge Approaches

Chapel Hill, Haslingfield. By Euan Dunn

Summary

East West Rail are planning to link Oxford and Cambridge by rail as part of the huge Ox Cam Arc development of new towns and villages.

A Consultation on the final route is open until 9 June.

This new Report for Cambridge Approaches covers the wildlife and environmental impact of the two routes into Cambridge from Cambourne: the Southern Route, which EWR seem to have already decided on, and the Northern Fenland Route, which includes Northstowe and seems to be favoured by a majority of those affected by these proposals. The report shows the Southern route has much greater impact on wildlife and landscape.

Figure 2. Source: Making Meaningful Connections. EWR Co. 2021 Consultation Document.

The Northern route is supported over the Southern one by every organisation involved in wildlife and landscape protection in the area, including the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire Wildlife Trust (BCNWT), the Woodland Trust, Cambridge Past Present and Future (CPPF) and the Countryside Restoration Trust. The government body charged with protecting nature, Natural England, has said “We are concerned at the apparent lack of an environmental justification for the discounting of route options to the North of Cambridge.

It is important to note that the Consultation only asks people to consider the Southern route, not the Northern one. The route is only shown as a thin line on a map; it does not include the inevitable access roads, waste dumps, machinery parks and other infrastructure that will be needed nearby. It does not include impacts such as air pollution, noise and light pollution, toxic contamination, or changes to water quality and quantity.

Crucially it does not include any of the impact of the massive housing developments planned for the future. A stated aim of the Ox Cam Arc megaproject, of which this is a part, is to locate new development next to new transport infrastructure. One proposal, which has been put on hold for now at least, is for 25,000 homes (1), 5 times the size of Cambourne, in the Barrington area. Many other proposed new towns will follow, completely changing the character of the area and its villages.  1 million new homes are proposed within the Ox Cam Arc area by 2050 (one third of the total proposed for the whole of the UK). 

East West Rail is already being dubbed Cambridgeshires own HS2.

If the project does go ahead, the environmental impact of the Southern Route will be much greater, and will have negative impacts on:

  • Cambridgeshire’s internationally important chalk streams, with their populations of Brown Trout, Water Vole and Otter, and the River Cam itself, already severely under pressure from water extraction for other new developments. There are only 200 chalk streams in the world and five will be affected by the Southern route:
  • The River Cam at Hauxton
  • The Rhee or Cam at Harston
  • The Riddy at Hauxton
  • Coldhams Brook
  • Hobson’s Brook which flows from the Nine Wells Local Nature Reserve into the city and beside the Botanic Garden, and was the first source of fresh drinking water for the people of Cambridge.
  • The West Cambridgeshire Hundreds Living Landscape, where the BCNWT is linking ancient woodlands like Hardwick Wood that have survived for hundreds of years. The proposed route will form a barrier for wildlife, and for people from Cambridge and its many new developments, no longer able to walk and cycle from the city to explore these areas or the associated Cambridge Boulder Clay & Woodland Priority Area identified as part of the Cambridge Nature Network by BCNWT and CPPF. 
  • Our chalk hills and grasslands, one of the UK’s Priority Habitats, and in particular Haslingfield Chalk Pit and its associated landscape, which has thousands of orchids, including the nationally rare Man Orchid, and is widely valued and used by local communities.
  • The Bourn Brook, a site internationally famous for its success in restoring rare water vole populations and reducing introduced American mink, and the work of the Countryside Restoration Trust at Westfield Farm, where over 20 years of research work have resulted in growing populations of rare farmland birds and plants.
  • Many species of rare and endangered wildlife, including Barn Owls, Lapwings, Otters, Water Voles, Badgers and Bats. As just one example, the globally rare Barbastelle bat has a maternity colony centred on the Wimpole Hall estate and the Eversden Woods. This area has been awarded one of the UK’s highest levels of protection, a Special Area for Conservation. Feeding flights for the breeding mothers will be blocked, and bats may be killed, during the construction and operation of the Southern route. Many more less mobile mammals and birds will be greatly affected too. Mitigation for the Barbastelles suggested by EWR includes methods that have been shown not to work elsewhere, such as nest boxes and bridges(2).
  • Elms are a rare tree in the British landscape, and recent research has found 35 species in Cambridgeshire(3), many growing in woods and hedges that will be destroyed, including one found nowhere else in the world, Ulmus cantabrigiensis, the Cambridge elm. Rare black poplars are also to be found along the southern route.
  • As well as the Special Area for Conservation at Wimpole, the Southern route will destroy or damage 2 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), at least 11 County Wildlife Sites and 3 City Wildlife Sites, vitally important green spaces for the growing population of Cambridge.

The Northern route is much less damaging to wildlife and landscapes, as it would cross the area already affected by the A14 upgrade, and a small part of agricultural fenland. It would not need to cross the River Cam. It should not affect any SSSIs, one or possibly 2 County Wildlife Sites, and no City Wildlife Sites.

However, both routes are likely to damage Coldhams Common and Coldhams Brook with its associated chalk stream network, a key recreational and wildlife site for the people of Cambridge. A large loop will need to be built here to allow freight trains to wait for a path through Cambridge; there has been little discussion about this major impact.

The rest of the Report gives more details on the impacts.

The author is

Kevin Hand MSc MCIEEM  
Independent Ecologist
Vice President, Cambridge Natural History Society
Course Director, ACE Foundation and Stapleford Granary

References

  1. Brackley, P. (2020). Why Thakeham’s plans for 25,000 homes in South Cambridgeshire will still be considered for the Local Plan.  https://www.cambridgeindependent.co.uk/news/why-thakeham-s-plans-for-25-000-homes-in-south-cambridgeshire-will-still-be-considered-for-the-local-plan-9144678/
  2. Sutherland, W.J. & Wordley, C.F.R. (2017). Evidence complacency hampers conservation. Nature Ecology & Evolution 1, 1215–1216.

The second example is that of bat gantries (pictured), designed to reduce bat mortality on roads. Gantries, which are meant to guide bats to fly high enough over roads to avoid traffic mortality, were used in the UK for nine years without being tested, at a total cost of around £1 million. When studies were eventually undertaken, they found the gantries to be ineffective yet gantries continue to be constructed. Again, this is not due to a lack of available evidence, nor even to awareness of existing evidence; the gantry studies were widely reported in the national press, in relevant conferences and on television.”

3. Wildlife Trust BCN (2019). Here and Nowhere Else. https://www.wildlifebcn.org/blog/wildlife-trust-bcn/here-and-nowhere-else.

Figure 1. The Cam at River Farm with permission from Doug Thompson.

Main Report

1. Chalk Streams

There are only around 200 chalk streams left in the world and 85% of them are in southern England.

The unique characteristics of chalk streams, with their pure cool water, support a wide range of flora and fauna, from plants such as Water-crowfoot, Lesser Water Parsnip and Water Starwort, to a diverse collection of invertebrates and fish including the iconic Brown Trout. A chalk stream teeming with life is also attractive to Water Voles, Kingfisher and Otter. The unique and diverse ecology of chalk streams makes them a globally rare, and globally important, habitat. It could be argued that chalk streams are our local equivalent of rainforests.

The chalk streams affected by the SOUTHERN ROUTE are detailed in the recent Greater Cambridge Chalk Streams Project Report produced for Cambridge City Council and Cambridge Water by Ruth Hawksley at the BCN Wildlife Trust and Rob Mungovan of the Wild Trout Trust(1)

Five chalk stream sites will be affected by the SOUTHERN ROUTE, namely:

  • The River Cam at Hauxton, which has Otter, Brown Trout and Brook Lamprey, a rarely seen and ancient fish which lives most of its life without eyes or mouth.
  • The Rhee or Cam at Harston, also with Otter and Brown Trout.
  • The Riddy at Hauxton.
  • Coldhams Brook, which has Water Voles and Otter, both unusual in an urban environment. 
  • Hobson’s Brook which flows from the Nine Wells Local Nature Reserve (LNR) into the city and beside the Botanic Garden, and was the first source of fresh drinking water for the people of Cambridge. Nine Wells LNR is a County Wildlife Site (CWS), and was formerly a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). It is also part of the Gog Magog Countryside Project connecting it with Wandlebury. 

Brown Trout are just starting to return to the area as water quality slowly improves. Otters are a protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, also returning after an absence of many years. Water Voles are also protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. They are one of our fastest declining mammals, but are also present in good numbers. Both are found in all 5 of the chalk streams that will be affected.

Figure 3. Rhee southern crossing point by Kevin Hand.

Beside the Rhee, at the SOUTHERN ROUTE crossing point, is a complex of wet meadows and wet willow woodland, probably the rarest UK woodland type. Both are Priority Habitats. This area would qualify as a CWS on its own merits. The author noted breeding evidence of Cetti’s Warbler here, probably a new county record, and singing Grasshopper Warbler. The woodland and associated mature willows have potential as a breeding site for the endangered Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.

The national Chalk Stream Alliance is fighting to protect the remaining streams. Locally the Cam Valley Forum (https://camvalleyforum.uk) is working to combat threats such as this kind of development. On 21 June 2021 the Friends of the River Cam are launching the Rights of the River Cam.

The NORTHERN ROUTE does not affect any chalk streams, and does not affect the River Cam, except in that both routes can impact Coldhams Brook and Coldhams Common by building a loop of track there so that large freight trains can turn around. This could be avoided if a loop is built outside Ely instead.

All the streams and river sections listed are going to be affected by the SOUTHERN ROUTE. Particular damage can be done during the building works by things such as increased sediment load, pollution and the disruption of hydrology. Noise and light pollution disturbing breeding birds and mammals would also be a particular issue.

Otters are fully protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. They are highly secretive when breeding, and cover a wide area, often up to over 35km of riverbanks, so laws protecting them could easily be broken. All nesting birds are protected, again under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, so no work could be done during the breeding season, from at least March-July, without breaking the law. No licences are available to destroy or disturb birds’ nests. Special species, like Kingfisher and the wetland warblers present such as Sedge, Reed and Cetti’s, have nests that are particularly hard to find.

Figure 4. Swans, with permission from Doug Thompson

2. Hardwick Wood and the West Cambridgeshire Hundreds Living Landscape

(A) Hardwick Wood

This is an ancient ash and field maple woodland, with nationally rare Oxlips (Primula elatior), and is managed by the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire Wildlife Trust (BCNWT) as a nature reserve. Recent changes to the National Planning Policy Framework for England planning laws state that “ancient woodland should not be affected by any development”. It is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), often referred to as the Crown Jewels of nature sites in Britain, and specifically protected by planning laws.

Hardwick Wood has the sinuous outline of medieval woods and is surrounded by a substantial wood bank, well preserved on the south and east sides. After ceasing in the early 20th century, coppicing was reinstated in 1979. This traditional practice lets in more light to the benefit of flowers and insects. As the coppice grows it provides safe nesting sites for woodland songbirds such as willow warbler, marsh tit and blackcap. The large amount of dead wood is a boon for the woodpeckers that can be heard drumming in spring. The Mere Way runs along the western boundary, the banks of the adjoining ditch providing a haven for cowslips and the rare crested cow-wheat, usually found on the margins of ancient woodlands and in clearings and rides. As twilight descends, the hoots of owls can be heard and bats patrol the woodland edges in their search for food.”

 Sourcehttps://www.wildlifebcn.org/nature-reserves/hardwick-wood

(B) Impact

The SOUTHERN ROUTE does not cut directly through the Wood, but goes close enough to have a significant impact on it, especially during the construction phase. It will also cut through wildlife corridors associated with the Wood, reducing its wildlife value. As there is no indication where associated works will be, it may be that access roads, waste dumps, spoil pits etc have further impacts upon the Wood and its associated habitats. As such, it will impact on the West Cambridgeshire Hundreds project.

(C) The West Cambridgeshire Hundreds

These are a collection of wildlife-rich ancient woodlands in an area defined for over 1000 years by the old Anglo-Saxon regional divisions known as the Cambridgeshire Hundreds. It’s thought the word ‘hundred’ came from an area of land that could supply 100 warriors in times of war.

This is a joint project between the BCN Wildlife Trust, local landowners, the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group East, the National Trust, Natural England, the Forestry Commission and the Woodland Trust. The Scheme area extends to 20,000 Ha.

The SOUTHERN ROUTE may also impact two nearby County Wildlife Sites (CWS). CWSs are areas of land in Cambridgeshire important for their wildlife, selected by the combined expertise of the BCN Wildlife Trust, Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group, Natural England, Environment Agency, local authorities and the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Environmental Records Centre (CPERC).

  • Jason Farm Grassland CWS is just north-west of Hardwick Wood. This site is notified because it has 0.05ha of the National Vegetation Classification (NVC) community MG5 Crested Dog’s-tail (Cynosurus cristatus)) – Black Knapweed (Centaurea nigra)  grassland. 
  • Frogs Hall Drift CWS is south of Hardwick Wood and supports frequent numbers of at least eight neutral grassland indicator species and populations of Nationally Scarce vascular plant species (Sulphur Clover (Trifolium ochroleucon); Yellow Pea (Lathyrus aphaca); Slender Tare (Vicia parviflora); Purple Fescue (Vulpia ambigua ssp. Ciliata – taken from CPERC records)).

The author found breeding evidence of Corn Bunting (Emberiza calandra), Skylark (Alauda arvensis), Yellowhammer (Emberiza citronella) and Linnet (Linaria cannabina) in the area. All are classified as Red under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds, and are Priority Species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework.

Figure 5. Linnet (Linaria cannabina), with permission from Douglas Thompson.
(D) Cambridge Nature Network

BCNWT, working with Cambridge City Council and others, have identified the landscape west of Cambridge as having significant potential to connect Cambridge to the West Cambridgeshire Hundreds, for the benefit of wildlife and people. 

The EWR favoured Southern route from Cambourne to Cambridge fundamentally compromises this goal of creating landscape scale connections … in this part of Cambridgeshire in providing a pleasant and largely undeveloped green lung accessible to the people of Cambridge.” 

Source: https://www.wildlifebcn.org/news/east-west-rail-consultation

The proposed route will in effect form a barrier for some wildlife and most definitely for people between the West Cambridgeshire Hundreds and the Cambridge Boulder Clay & Woodland Priority Area identified as part of the Cambridge Nature Network. The barrier will also separate the people of Cambridge from the West Cambridgeshire Hundreds, in that attractive non-motorised travel routes will be severely degraded or even cut off.

Source: Martin Baker, Conservation Manager, BCNWT

3. Chalk Hills and Grassland

Cambridgeshire’s ridge of chalk hills, running here from Wimpole to the valley of the Cam at Haslingfield, are a highly visual highlight of the county’s landscape. They were formed in the Cretaceous period between about 90 and 99 million years ago, mostly from the remains of marine algae and various animals that sank to the bottom of a warm, deep sea. Rain filters through them to feed the chalk streams, and their aquifers supply much of our drinking water. Chalk grassland is only found in north-west Europe, and a significant proportion of this is in the southern counties of England. Chalk grassland has declined by an estimated 75-80%since the Second World War.

The SOUTHERN ROUTE from Cambourne to Harston contains a huge embankment, viaduct and cutting complex dubbed the Great Wall of Cambridge, which will transform the landscape. This route will cut through the chalk hills from Harlton to Harston, and will include a deep cutting through the historic Chapel Hill, the famous ridge that stands above the village of Barrington. Once changed, this landscape can never be restored.

Figure 6. Elm Woodland on Chapel Hill by Kevin Hand.

The chalk soils form another Priority Habitat under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan and the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act. The roadside verges at Chapel Hill are rich in chalk flowers, and should qualify as a County Wildlife Site. 

Nearby Haslingfield Pit is a CWS, notified because of the thousands of rare orchids that grow there, in particular the Man Orchid, listed as Nationally Scarce. Other orchids include Common Twayblade, Bee Orchid and Common Spotted Orchid. They are counted annually by local volunteers led by Clive Blower. In 2017 the totals were:

  • Man Orchid (Orchis anthropophora) – 75
  • Bee Orchid (Orphrys apifera) – 12
  • Common Twayblade (Neottia ovata) – 606
  • Common Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsia) – 1515

Haslingfield Pit is widely used for recreation and relaxation by locals and visitors. It has the potential to expand into neighbouring areas, including the field margins nearby, which also potentially hold rare chalk flowers.

Figure 7. Common Spotted Orchids in Haslingfield Pit June 2020, with permission from Angela Thompson.
Figure 8. Bee Orchids in Haslingfield Pit June 2020, with permission from Angela Thompson.
Figure 9. Broom Rape in Haslingfield Pit June 2020, with permission from Douglas Thompson.

Also likely to be affected by the SOUTHERN ROUTE is the nearby Barrington Chalk Pit SSSI. This is a ‘Geological Conservation Review’ site, and is noted as the last remaining exposure of the famous Cretaceous ‘Cambridge Greensand’. The site has great stratigraphical importance for studies of the Upper Cretaceous of eastern England. 

The area is also noted for its wildlife interest, with protected species such as Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) and Raven (Corvus corax) nesting nearby, and many rare elms growing in the hedges.

4. Bourn Brook, the Countryside Restoration Trust land at Westfield Farm, Comberton, and nearby County Wildlife Sites

(A) Bourn Brook

Bourn Brook is part of the same network as the chalk streams that flow into the Cam, but is classified as a clay stream as it runs mainly beneath the chalk hills, all the way into the outskirts of Cambridge at Byron’s Pool, Grantchester. The SOUTHERN ROUTE will cross it south of Toft, with a huge potential impact on its wildlife and ecology.

Bourn Brook is internationally famous for its Water Vole conservation work, led by Dr Vince Lea and the Countryside Restoration Trust (CRT). Their project to eradicate introduced American Mink, Bourn Free, has been widely publicised and admired for its ground-breaking success. As a result, Water Vole numbers have increased such that every available habitat along the Brook is now occupied, with a similar increase in water birds and particularly Otters. Otters are rarely seen so their numbers are estimated by the number of spraints (droppings marking territory), which increased from 11 in 2011 to 90 in 2017. The project is described in detail in an article by Dr Lea(2) in British Wildlife in December 2020. Water Voles can, in theory, be moved elsewhere from a site that is threatened with destruction, when Natural England give developers a licence to do this, except that all suitable habitat nearby is already occupied. Otters cannot be subjected to licensed removal, and there is no mitigation possible for the thriving populations living here.

Otter and Water Vole conservation is just part of the work of the Countryside Restoration Trust, whose Westfield Farm at Comberton will be cut in half by the SOUTHERN ROUTE. The CRT statement on this gives an excellent overview of the impacts on the wildlife of the area, and we quote extensively from it here.

“ The latest preferred route option is potentially disastrous for nature and wildlife habitats in the Cambridge area.

  The rail link’s proposed route will directly and negatively impact wildlife habitats and species numbers and divide habitat corridors throughout the area. The route could destroy 27 years of endeavour to increase national declining species on CRT land at Westfield Farm in Comberton.

  We have been approached to have environmental studies on our land at Westfield Farm, Comberton, in 2021. The East-West Railway project has recently released an interactive map showing the route in a blue-grey proposed area (and layers of land designation can be highlighted).

  Westfield lies south-west of Comberton, and despite being listed as a ‘Priority Habitat’ (by Natural England) and a Greenbelt area (by The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s formerly the Department for Communities and Local Government) which is specially designated area of countryside protected from most forms of development, the route dissects through the land.

  The concern is that this devastates CRT land and other habitats, reserves, and local homes. We join other organisations suggestions that the railway line should follow the A428 and not obliterate the precious rural countryside to the west of Cambridgeshire.

Sourcehttps://www.countrysiderestorationtrust.com/oxford-cambridge-arc

(B) Westfield Wildlife 

Again, quoting extensively from the CRT statement, and using their images, we note the extensive number of species that will be impacted by this development.

We are extremely concerned about the impact the East-West Railway project will have on the habitats of protected, rare and farmland species. These include many BAP species identified as being the most threatened and requiring conservation action under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP).

  • Birds
  • Yellowhammer (in the top 1% of sites nationally 2019)
  • Grey partridge (in top 1% of sites nationally 2019)
  • Corn Bunting (numbers in the top 10% of sites nationally 2019)
  • Skylarks (numbers in the top 10% of sites nationally 2019)
  • Linnet
  • Song Thrush
  • Barn Owl 
  • Kingfisher
  • Starlings
  • Hobby (rare migratory falcon – spotted 2020)
  • Lapwings (winter visitor)
  • Golden Plover (winter visitor)

Large numbers of Brown Hares on-site, with double-figure counts regularly seen. Brown Hares are listed as a Priority Species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework.

   At least one Badger sett with activity in other areas suggesting possibly a secondary sett developing. It is against the law, under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, in England and Wales to disturb a badger and intentionally or recklessly damage or destroy a badger sett or obstruct access to it.

Figure 10. Badger, with permission from Douglas Thompson.

   Bats are not systematically recorded but are seenPipistrelles particularly. Also, there are recorded sightings of the Barbastelle bat.

   In 2020 we undertook our first Harvest Mouse nest exploration on Westfield and found a nest, demonstrating that this species is present on site.

Figure 11: Water Vole. Source: https://www.countrysiderestorationtrust.com/oxford-cambridge-arc
(C)  Bourn Brook through Westfield, reptiles, butterflies and plants

Again, we quote extensively from the CRT statement on the biodiversity present. 

The Bourn Brook’s riparian habitat that runs through Westfield is regularly monitored and maintained to create habitats for declining species and remove invasive species.

  Water Voles have colonised the site following work on the Bourn Brook to remove the invasive American Mink. Through a collaborative project, started in 2011, called the Bourn Free project, the local numbers of Water Vole has risen on other parts of the Bourn Brook that flows through Lark Rise Farm, CRT land in Barton.

  Westfield was the site where the first live-sighting of a wild, native Polecat was made in Cambridgeshire when one entered one of our mink traps and was released back into the wild following photographs as a record of the sighting.

  Grass snakes are seen in most years, including one record in 2020. These reptiles are listed as a Priority Species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework.

  Great Crested Newts have been recorded on a few occasions. Great Crested Newts are listed as a Priority Species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework.

  There is a regular survey of butterflies on the site, with nearly 20 years of data fed into the national butterfly monitoring scheme. This long-running data set would be threatened if a railway line crosses the site.
   While most species recorded are common and widespread, we have a good assemblage of species, including Small Coppers, Marbled Whites and Purple Hairstreaks.

   In recent years, the Biodiversity Action Plan Species White-letter Hairstreak has been recorded with photographic evidence.

Many rare and scarce arable weeds have been recorded on Westfield.

An example of some of the arable weeds include:

  • Shepherd’s Needle
  • Sharp-leaved Fluellens
  • Night-flowering Catchfly

Restored hay-meadows now have naturally colonised by Pyramidal Orchids recorded among other species.”

Sourcehttps://www.countrysiderestorationtrust.com/oxford-cambridge-arc

 (D)  Other County Wildlife Sites

Near to Westfield Farm are another two County Wildlife Sites that will be impacted:

  • The Radio Telescope area west of A603 

This supports over 0.05ha of the NVC community CG3 Upright Brome grassland.

  • Lords Bridge Observatory 

Situated east of the A603, this supports frequent numbers of at least 3 strong neutral grassland indicator species. Additionally it supports a population of the Nationally Scarce vascular plant species Slender Tare (Vicia parviflora). It is a large site at 34 ha.

The sides of A603 here are Protected Road Verges for similarly valuable neutral and calcareous grassland.

5. Endangered Wildlife, including Barbastelle bats

Many species of endangered and protected wildlife will be killed by the SOUTHERN ROUTE. Most of these are listed under their sites mentioned above.

In addition the route includes good populations of Water Vole, Otter, Brown Hare, Badgers and Bats. The last two are dealt with in more detail below. Rare species such as Marsh Harrier, Red Kite, Raven and Peregrine Falcon breed along the route: their locations are not publicised. Barn Owls nest in many places along the route, as do Grey Partridges, Skylarks, Yellow Wagtail, Lapwing, Yellowhammers, Bullfinch, Dunnock, Reed Bunting, Song Thrushand Linnets, all Red List farmland bird species of conservation concern. There are good populations of Whitethroat, Blackcap and Chiffchaff, and smaller numbers of Willow Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler and Reed Warbler, as well as many other scarce bird species that use the many hedges and woodland strips along the route.

All birds and their nests have protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, with no Natural England licences available to exempt developers from the unlimited fines available for nest disturbance or destruction. This means all work should stop whenever birds are nesting, roughly half the year, adding considerably to the time needed to complete the project. 

The NORTHERN ROUTE also has nesting birds, but overall the numbers are likely to be less, with fewer species of special importance, particularly as much of the land is urban, suburban, already developed, or intensively managed farmland with few hedges and woods. Badgers do occur in reasonable numbers in the Dry Drayton area, but much less so on the drained fen farmland. Bats are likely to show a similar distribution, but more work should be done to confirm this. Otters are likely to be absent from the route, and Water Voles extremely scarce.

(A) Bats

All bat species are scarce and endangered, with some being our rarest animals. All are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, along with their roosts in trees and buildings. As with all the other wildlife recorded, it is likely that bat numbers affected are much greater along the SOUTHERN ROUTE. Many will roost in mature trees that will be felled, particularly Noctule, Long Eared and the two Pipistrelle species, with others roosting in woods, and for the last three species, some of the houses that will be destroyed.

The UK is a signatory to the Agreement on the Conservation of Bats in Europe, set up under the Bonn Convention. The Fundamental Obligations of Article III of this Agreement require the protection of all bats and their habitats, including the identification and protection from damage or disturbance of important feeding areas for bats. 

It is worth noting that bat roosts are notoriously hard to find. Many developers employ ecologists who will survey for bat roosts. This involves waiting beside potential roost trees at dusk or dawn, with audio bat detectors, in the hope of seeing or hearing the very fast emergence of the bats, which takes a matter of seconds. It is easily missed. With so many trees to look at it is highly unlikely that all bat roosts will be found before tree felling begins.

 (B) Barbastelles (Barbastella barbastellus)

Of particular importance, South Cambridgeshire is home to a large breeding colony of one of our rarest bats, the Barbastelle. The Wimpole Estate and Eversden Woods are protected for this reason with one of the highest UK designations, a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) https://sac.jncc.gov.uk/site/UK0030331

Figure 12. Barbastelle Bat

 Although the works associated with the SOUTHERN ROUTE will hopefully not destroy this area directly, Barbastelles feed at traditional sites some distance away in rural landscapes with deciduous woodland, wet meadows and water bodies. Barbastelles tolerate only minimal disturbance within 2 km of their roost. They can forage up to 20km from their roosts but more typically venture around 6-8km. They commute to foraging sites along linear landscape features, such as woodland edges and hedgerows, similar to the hedgerows that act as wildlife corridors. They have also been known to cross open areas such as arable fields to reach foraging grounds.

In 2008, a proposal for 8 wind turbines on land at Merry’s Farm, Great Eversden, was put to the landowner but not carried out because Natural England stated that “Separate to any Environmental Impact Assessment undertaken there will also need to be an Appropriate Assessment for the proposal under the Habitats Regulations. For the proposals to pass this assessment it will have to be conclusively shown that there will be no impacts on the integrity of the site (i.e. on the barbastelles for which the site is designated) arising from the development. If there is any
uncertainty about such impacts, then the proposal is unlikely to pass the assessment
.” 

In addition “given the international importance of the site and the acknowledged deficiencies in current scientific knowledge, we would also expect to see more innovative methods of survey employed to detect activity at turbine height (e.g. using remote systems or radar). In order to provide a robust evidence base to meet the requirements of an AppropriateAssessment, we would suggest that at least 3 years worth of survey data would be required.”

Source: This information has been shared with CA by Jane Rolph of Merry’s Farm.

The same level of compliance must be needed for the railway and its ‘Great Wall’ viaduct and all other associated works. Three years of intensive survey would significantly delay the project and increase the costs, and the results may well mean this route is rejected.

Disruption to the foraging routes and flight lines could have a potentially significant impact on the Barbastelle bats foraging habits, particularly impacting on the breeding females, putting at risk the maternity colony and, thus, ultimately the species. The species is very sensitive to disturbance, including disturbance to roost sites and access to food resources, which may be why it is such a rare bat. The Barbastelle is on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, where it is classified as ‘near threatened’ with extinction (IUCN Red List 2020).

Much radio tracking work has been done on the areas the breeding bats use when feeding their young, and many of these lie directly along the planned works. Other areas are the other side of the route, and there is good evidence that bats cannot cross these kind of large transport routes, and risk death if they try. The gantries proposed by EWR have been shown not to work see Sutherland & Wordley, 2017(3).  

Damant & Vine (2006)(4) stated the following:

“After another hour or two these bats would make excursions to the east, towards Cambridge. The favoured route for some bats was the old railway line with the radio telescope dishes; this also had tall neglected hedges either side and semi-natural grassland (another good source of micro-lepidoptera). Other routes were along Bourn brook and other tall hedges. The small villages of Toft, Kingston, Comberton, Barton and Harlton were also favoured. In 2003 one bat used Harlton quite frequently, including the old chalk quarry with its secondary growth of woodland and the tall hedges in and around the area.

The Barton area was extensively used by a single bat which sometimes flew to Barton, back to the maternity roost woodland and back to Barton in one night. It is very probable that these trackways are used because of the natural grassland margins, their quietness and also the fact that they may actually accumulate wind blown invertebrates from the surrounding arable land. Simon Damant has witnessed this in another trackway used by Pipistrelles where a short section had a tall hedge in a predominantly open landscape a long way from buildings and woodland.

To some extent the Wimpole population follows this basic assumption in that they do use Bourn Brook and go into Grantchester where the River Cam joins the River Rhee, almost certainly relying on the adjacent meadows to the waterways for a rich source of food. The small River Rhee catchment and Bourn Brook seem to be the main areas for foraging, though villages to the east are also frequented. However, in a much modified human landscape the bats would seem to have also adapted to using the more unkempt wider and taller boundary hedgerows with woodland copses for their flight lines and foraging in south west Cambridgeshire. They have also used the disused railway lines which have developed a secondary tree growth and tall hedgerows with semi natural grasslands. It is important to note that southwest Cambridgeshire is well wooded compared with much of the rest of the county but even here woodland is sparse and not particularly well linked by good tall and wide hedgerows.

… Therefore absolutely any woodland loss within a radius of 10-15km could be of great significance for the viability of the population of Barbastelles at Wimpole.

It is recommended by the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 that large infrastructure projects that could impact an SAC, whatever the distance, should undertake a Habitats Regulation Assessment. This has not been done, for either route. The Habitats Directive includes protection of the habitat, including the flight and foraging lines upon which the bats rely to successfully breed and rear young. Natural England have stated: For this reason, Natural England would advise that an Evidence Plan should be agreed with the relevant statutory bodies in order to inform EWR Co.’s approach to complying with the Habitats and Wild Birds Directives.

Source: Natural England response to the non-statutory consultation 2019, page 254.

Much has already been written about the impacts of the SOUTHERN ROUTE on the Barbastelles of Wimpole and Eversden. There is an excellent article by Angela Thompson, Chris Vine, Pippa Keynes and William Harrold on the Cambridge Approaches website. Sourcehttps://cambridgeapproaches.org/barbastelle-bats-are-they-important-when-considering-ewr-route/

This draws on the work of the Cambridgeshire Bat Group in radio tracking barbastelles from the SAC maternity colony (Vine 2002)(5). This showed their flight and foraging lines include the Bourn Brook corridor and the River Rhee/Cam, as well as the two CWS sites at Lords Bridge and the Radio Telescope line.

Note that this work would need to be brought up to date by EWR before they could make any suggestions of mitigation, tunnels or gantries, even though these have been shown not to work.

(C) Badgers (Meles meles)

Badgers are abundant along the Southern Chalk Hills route. The Cambridgeshire Mammal Group are aware of at least 20-30 family groups that will be impacted, and note that many more families are unrecorded. These families can have over 30 members. The average is 5- 8 adults per family, plus young, so an estimated 150 badgers at least could be affected, perhaps over 500. 

Many fewer badgers will be affected by the NORTHERN ROUTE, with few badgers in the fens themselves. 

Badgers are protected from death and destruction of their homes under the Protection of Badgers Act, 1992 and the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981. However developers are often able to appeal to Natural England, the government body involved in protecting nature, and NE will give them licences, not to kill badgers directly, but to block them from their homes, known as setts. This is done by covering the setts with thick mesh, and putting one-way gates on the remaining sett entrances, so they can leave but not return. As badgers spend the daytime hiding underground in their setts, there is little information on how they survive when they cannot access them. Anecdotal evidence suggests many badgers are killed by cars as they attempt to find new places to live. Because they are highly territorial, they will not be tolerated by other badgers living nearby, and may have to travel long distances, presumably hiding out above ground each day as they go, until they find an unoccupied area with enough food and a place to dig a new sett. Developers are supposed to provide some artificial setts for them nearby, but rarely enough for the number of badgers displaced, and in practice distressed badgers often reject the man-made setts. 

Along the 100 miles of the HS2 route currently under construction, just 4 man-made setts appear to have been provided so far, with many hundreds of badgers evicted.

(D) Polecat (Mustela putorius)

The native British Polecat is only now returning to Cambridgeshire, with some of the first sightings in areas along the SOUTHERN ROUTE. This rare and secretive mammal was persecuted to extinction in England in the past, and is supported in its natural reintroduction by the national Mammal Society and many other conservation groups.

(E) Elms 

Elms are a rare tree in the British landscape, decimated by Dutch elm disease in the 1970s and beyond. Recent research by Brian Eversham, CEO of BCNWT, has found 35 species in Cambridgeshire, many growing in woods and hedges that will be destroyed, including one found nowhere else in the world, Ulmus cantabrigiensis or the Cambridge elm.

Running along the summit of Chapel Hill, Barrington, is a particularly impressive mixed elm woodland with many mature trees. Many other mature elms are found in hedges and woodlands along the route, along with smaller hedgerow trees, which have the potential to grow into large trees.

(F) Oaks

There are many other mature trees along the route, most of which would qualify for Tree Preservation Orders. Of particular note are the many ancient oaks, many of which mark field and parish boundaries.

The hedges between Barrington and Harston have recently seen the planting of 300 oaks by community volunteers as part of the national Save the Oaks campaign (www.savetheoaks.org). The trees were planted in memory of those who died during the Covid pandemic. 

(G) Black Poplars (Populus nigra)

Black poplars have been reported along the SOUTHERN ROUTE, particularly in the Radio Telescope area. These are one of Britain’s rarest trees, with an estimated population of around 600.

6. Coldhams Common and the City Wildlife Sites

(A) Coldhams Common

Coldhams Common is protected as a County Wildlife Site, and is widely used by the people of Cambridge, including those from areas with less direct access to green spaces, such as Abbey and Romsey. Many enjoy access to the outdoor sports facilities here, and there are large areas used for healthy walking and exercise. A new community farm, CoFarm, has recently been set up by volunteers to grow and provide fresh organic food for those who are in need. The Friends of Coldham Common group represent local communities who use and value the area.

Coldhams Common has a rich wildlife biodiversity, particularly for an urban area. Amongst the breeding birds are many warblers, which migrate here annually from Africa, including Chiffchaff, Blackcap, the scarce Lesser Whitethroat and Goldcrest. The city’s resident Peregrine Falcons hunt over here, and other rare birds like Osprey and Hobby have been sometimes noted. 

The area likely to be affected, by both routes, is where the Coldhams Brook (described above under Chalk Streams) runs through the Common, near the Abbey football ground. Here, large freight trains will need a loop of new track built to allow them to wait for a path through Cambridge. Few details have yet been provided by EWR about this. It could have a large impact on that part of the Common, and on the ecosystem and hydrology of Coldhams Brook.

(B) Other Cambridge Wildlife Sites
Source: Cambridgeshire Green Infrastructure Strategy; Cambridgeshire Horizons (2011)

One other CWS (shown in blue above) is likely to be highly affected, and almost certainly destroyed, by the SOUTHERN ROUTE. This is the triangle of woodland beside the existing railway and guided busway, north of Long Road, known as Long Road Triangle CWS. The site qualifies as a County Wildlife Site because of the presence of a Nationally Scarce vascular plant species, Spreading Hedge Parsley (Torilis arvensis), but it is also an important piece of scarce undisturbed woodland in the city. The SOUTHERN ROUTE will require expansion of the existing railway line, destroying this site and its neighbour, below.

Long Road Triangle is given extra value because it joins a City Wildlife Site (CiWS), Long Road Plantation, just south of Long Road. CiWS are designated by the same body as the County Wildlife Sites, and are important urban wildlife refuges. Long Road Plantation qualifies because it is a woodland of over 1ha and has five or more characteristic woodland plant species.

Moving further south along the existing line, which will be widened, the next City Wildlife Site under threat is Hobsons Brook. This has a higher status as a Chalk stream (see above)together with its adjacent habitat. There is a very high risk it will become contaminated by sediment and debris during the building work.

Nine Wells was a geological SSSI, and is a main source for the Hobsons Brook chalk stream. Adjacent to it is Red Cross Lane Drain (TL465547), a CiWS that supports several neutral grassland indicator species in good numbers. Both sites are likely to be highly damaged by the expansion of the adjacent railway line.

Since these sites were designated a new area of high wildlife and public value has developed at Hobsons Park. It has a large amount of wildlife of interest, and is much used by the people of the city. In just one recent visit the author noted breeding evidence of Reed and Sedge warblers, Corn and Reed bunting, Yellow Wagtail, Skylark in large numbers, Meadow Pipit, and a large Black Headed Gull colony, with Common Terns also likely to breed. Hobsons Brook runs through the site. Expansion of the railway and associated works are likely to have a high impact on this important site.

7. Northern Route Wildlife Sites

The only SSSI near to the NORTHERN ROUTE is Madingley Wood, just over 2 km away, but separated from the route by the A428 dual carriageway. Because of this it is unlikely to be impacted by the route works

There is a Roadside Verge CWS south of Knapwell near the A428 crossing that supports populations of Nationally Scarce vascular plant species including Sulphur Clover (Trifolium ochroleucon) and Crested Cow-wheat (Melampyrum cristatum). This site could be damaged or destroyed.

Also along the route is Beach Ditch and Engine Drain CWS south of Cottenham, designated for its wet ditch flora and fauna. Again this could be damaged or destroyed. 

Other impacts of the NORTHERN ROUTE are also much less, and are mentioned above.   

Kevin Hand MSc MCIEEM   May 2021
Independent Ecologist
Vice President, Cambridge Natural History Society
Course Director, ACE Foundation and Stapleford Granary

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to all at Cambridge Approaches, particularly Dr Anna Gannon, Dr William Harrold, Pippa Keynes, Dr Sharon Erzinclioglu and Angela Thompson; the Cambridge Bat Group; and the Cambridge and Peterborough Environmental Records Centre (CPERC).

References
  1. Hawkesley, R. & Mungovan, R. (2020). Greater Cambridge Chalk Streams Project Report. https://www.cambridge.gov.uk/media/9067/greater-cambridge-chalk-streams-project-report.pdf
  2. Lea, V. (2020) Is Mink control for ever? Prospects for eradication in East Anglia. British Wildlife 32(3):165-172.
  3. Sutherland, W.J. & Wordley, C.F.R. (2017). Evidence complacency hampers conservation. Nature Ecology & Evolution 1: 1215–1216.
  4. Damant, S. & Vine, C. (2006). The Barbastelle at Wimpole. Nature in Cambridgeshire 48: 60-64.
  5. Vine, C. (2002). A. study of Barbastelle bats at Wimpole, Cambridgeshire, July 2000 to August 2002. Report to Natural England. Available from Natural England on request or directly from the National Trust.
Categories
Route Alignments

In Search of a Low Impact Design for the Cambridge Approaches

Figure 1 San Jose, Silicon Valley. A vision of Cambridgeshire in 2050?

Introduction

The EWR Co. 2021 non-statutory consultation includes a policy statement[1] on noise and vibration in which we find the following statement. “Sometimes we will need to elevate the track, for instance when trains intersect with roads and cross land in a floodplain. However, where it’s practicable we will consider building the track low in the landscape. This can help reduce noise and has the benefit of reducing the impact on the landscape.” 

Although they recognise that it is good to build low in the landscape (and as we shall see, this is good for several more reasons than just noise and vibration), the circumstances where they elevate the railway occur frequently. This has resulted in proposals for the approaches to Cambridge, north or south, which can only be described as a desecration of the landscape in our precious green belt. Indeed, it is hard to overstate the hideous nature of the proposals that we have before us.

This post has been written with the guidance of experienced civil engineers and the hope is to help EWRCo. find a better solution. But it is also to explain to others what is possible and is achieved elsewhere in the world and so to set all our expectations a lot higher. CBRR have, as volunteers, looked at a low impact railway design for the northern approach, but have not done so for the southern approach.

But before we get into all that, we start with some important background.

Background: Number of Houses in Cambridgeshire to Double by 2050

The EWR project forms part of Whitehall’s OxCam ARC initiative as set out in their National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) report[2] and confirmed in the recent OxCam Spatial Framework 2021 from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG)[3]. The NIC report (p.28) envisages building 1 million homes in the Arc between now and 2050 and in particular 271,000 in an area approximating to Cambridgeshire. 

Since the area in the NIC report is not the same as the county of Cambridgeshire the percentage increase between the baseline date of 2014 and 2050 is harder to estimate from publicly available figures, however and Oxford Professor David Rogers has stated that it represents an 81% increase. The recent rate of housing growth will soon have to double to make that target by 2050. 

The average home in the UK generates over 50 tonnes of CO2 in construction and emits a further 2.7 tonnes per year[4].  That’s 26.7 million tonnes of CO2 between 2014 and 2050 for construction and a rate of emission of 0.73 million tonnes / year after 2050 excluding any further construction. We cannot go on like this.

The population of the UK is forecast to grow by 16% by 2050 with the addition of 3 million homes. Therefore, the 1 million homes in the Arc is one third of the number for the whole UK and is concentrated in just 4.7% of the UK’s land area. The NIC report refers to this  “transformational” growth, way beyond anything needed to serve existing residents. We will be transformed into an urban sprawl from Oxford to Cambridge – see Figure 1. Who does this benefit? Not local residents. I suggest that local politicians consider who they are elected to represent. We do not want this.

The OxCam Arc plan is for Cambridgeshire to grow much, much faster than the UK average. The OxCam Spatial Framework plans to create 1.1 million new jobs. We are talking about a lot of people moving into the area. Everyone should be interested in the environmental impact of this and we recommend watching the talk given to the Friends of the Cam recently by the Oxford Professor of Ecology David Rogers who provided many of the insights above.[5]

Our local environment and residents are in for some cruel and unusual punishment if the OxCam Arc goes ahead and EWR Co.’s project is a core part of it.

Yes, we need more houses and we need better transport for local commuters, but the plans for the OxCam Arc go way beyond that. Perhaps Whitehall have the scene in Figure 1 in mind for the whole OxCam Arc and Cambridge in particular. How long will even the green belt last?

Incidentally, how can anyone plan, propose, decide or even comment on the route of the railway when there is no plan for where these 271,000 additional houses are to be built?

Why talk about this in the context of a post about ‘low Impact design for railways’? Well, most of the Cambridge Approaches material is working on the premise that the EWR Central Section does have a sensible triple (profit, people, planet) bottom line case and, given that it will be built, we are looking at where might be the most sensible place for it to go based on available information. Put another way, we are addressing the proposition in front of us. However, we will just make two points.

  • If there is a business case for the Bedford to Cambridge section it will be predicated on this massive housing growth and EWR Co. are therefore in no position at all to take the any moral high ground on CO2 emissions.
  • To encourage all these people to want to work in the area the railway needs to be attractive as specified in the Sponsors Requirements[6]The Great Wall, huge grade separated junctions and lots of 4-tracking in Cambridge are an appalling start on this.


Railway Engineering Structures – A Survey of the Options for Low Impact Design

Table 1 Environmentally-adverse Impact of Structures (In order of decreasing overall impact).

Level crossings are no longer being built for safety reasons, so we are left with some of the more difficult choices in Table 1 above. EWR Co. have proposed a route involving long embankments, viaducts and rail-over-rail grade-separated junctions as part of the extensive 4-tracking as the new railway approaches Cambridge from the south or the north. As can be seen from Table 1, these are some of the structures with the most adverse impact from an environmental point of view. So why are EWR Co. proposing them?

EWR Co. have expressed concern about crossing flood plains and cite a recent landslide in Scotland as a reason to avoid them where possible. We assume that they are talking about the Stonehaven derailment in Aberdeenshire.[7] This occurred in severe weather near a river crossing in quite hilly terrain where the land slipped. Landslips are often triggered by inadequately maintained drains. The flood plains to the north and south of Cambridge are in flat terrain and there are no river crossings on the northern approach proposed by CBRR. So, we fail to see the relevance of this incident to the Cambridge approaches. It would perhaps be more relevant to the Cam-crossing south of Harston as EWR Co.’s proposed route emerges from Chapel Hill and crosses the river on a high viaduct and embankment.

Towards the bottom of Table 1 we see trench railways as a low impact solution. However, EWR Co. have concerns about these. We address their concerns in Table 2.

Table 2 EWR Co. Objections to Trench Railways*As expressed in the EWR Co. Clapham Green to the Eversdens Presentation 11/5/2021.

EWR Co.’s Analysis of the Northern Approach

EWR Co. flag that “A northern route would cross the newly upgraded A14 trunk road to the west of Girton, which at this location is an eight-lane dual carriageway. This would therefore require a substantial bridge structure. The prevailing low-lying land level mean that this structure would be a prominent feature in the surrounding landscape” see Technical Report Appendix F §1.1.4.

In §1.1.5 of the same report they go on to say: “An additional station could be provided at Northstowe, but the area is low-lying and forms part of a floodplain so the station and its approaches would necessarily be elevated. A junction with the existing West Anglian Main Line (WAML) would be located north of Milton and this too sits in a floodplain.”

As previously discussed they immediately assume that rail goes over road and flood plains need embankments. CBRR’s hugely experienced consulting engineers do not make any such assumptions.

CBRR’s Fen Crossing Proposal for the Northern Approach

In 2018, CBRR published some preliminary alignment notes for CBRR’s proposed route. After discussion with EWR Co. during 2018, CBRR revised their notes[8]. The route proposal included a Fen Crossing section involving a trench railway so that, where necessary, the railway can have low impact as set out in Table 1.

To quote from their notes. For Map 6 “The highest ground along the route is north of Bourn Airfield where it is about +70mOD, and the line will need a cutting to limit the height to +65m. East of the station it leaves the A421/A428 alignment and drops steadily while heading north east to the east of Dry Drayton and passing below the A14 near the Cambridge Crematorium. By crossing below the A14 the impact on the crematorium will be reduced.”

For Maps 7 & 8 we find the following notes: “North-east of the A14 the line passes to the south-east of Oakington, where a station is proposed to serve Oakington and Northstowe. It then has to cross the fens for about 9km before joining the Cambridge – Ely line. For the fen crossing it is proposed to once again lower the alignment to below existing ground level and contain the line in a structural trench with walls up to flood protection level. This allows it to pass below the Oakington – Girton road, the guided busway, B1049 north of Histon, Landbeach road, and the A10 north of Milton. The advantages of keeping the line low are the reduced visual impact, the ease of building over-bridges, and the avoidance of new embankments which would cause continuing settlement for years after construction.”

EWR Co. have clearly missed the option of rail under road and trench railways in their write up of the northern approach, but they do follow the same route as CBRR in their analysis of the northern approach[9].  They have also completely missed it for the southern approach. In terms of structures the only options they consider are embankments, viaducts and overbridges. They then conclude, correctly, that these have higher visual impact as we have said in Table 1.

It seems that EWR Co.’s analysis has missed an opportunity to reduce the environmental impact of the railway and this has led them to produce hideous proposals for approaches both northern and southern. One of their reasons to reject the northern approach is the hideous nature of their own design. This is completely invalid.

To get an initial impression of what the design of a trench railway would look like in context it is perhaps best to look at this fly-through of an Oakington / Northstowe Station as proposed by CBRR. 

Notice that right at the end of the video, it is practically impossible to see any evidence of the station. This fly-through has been created by a local game designer based on engineering drawings from CBRR.

Northstowe Station

EWR Co., misleadingly, describe the access to the proposed Northstowe station as follows: “The proposed station at Oakington for Northstowe is at the very southern end of the new town, south of Oakington village, nearly 5km away from the northern edge of Northstowe (roughly a one hour walk).” 

It is also worth seeing this in the context of Homes England’s plans for Northstowe when fully built out as we assume it would be when the EWR services would start in 2030 (see Figure 2).  We agree with EWR that the current settlement of Northstowe is some way from Oakington, but this rather misses the point that only 7% of the housing has currently been completed and that happens to be at the other end of the new town (Phase 1 in Figure 2). When fully built with phase 2 and phase 3, it will reach all the way to Oakington. We also point out that there are other ways to travel 5km than walking. Why don’t EWR Co. say this? 

Although the Sponsors requirements ask for a commuter railway and the EWR Co. traffic model says that 70% of journeys will be local, EWR Co. are proposing a solution which will serve very few people in the area at least initially. It’s for people that live in Cambourne and happen to work at the Biomedical Campus or central Cambridge. How many is that? There are other ways to meet that demand.

Figure 2 Homes England Phased Plan for Northstowe – CBRR’s Proposed Station is at the Oakington End

EWR Co. also point out that that Northstowe already has the guided busway and imply that it does not need any more public transport provision.

Note that the busway shown in Figure 2 has two stops. During a visit on the 11th May 2021 we found this sign (see Figure 3) at the Longstanton stop to the north of the plan in Figure 2 and repeated on the front of the buses. Passenger numbers are reduced due to the pandemic and some social distancing is required on the buses, but Stagecoach are using all their buses and there is a currently a capacity shortage. We understand from bus users that the Cambridge buses are already full before they get to the Longstanton stop and this has been the case for years.

Figure 3 Indications that the Busway is Overloaded May 2021

We then visited the Oakington stop at around 11am the first Cambridge-bound bus to arrive displayed a “bus full” sign and did not stop. Here is a video of it passing through. Also we could only find two car parking spaces at Oakington Station.

EWR Co. may have spoken to Cambridgeshire County Council about future plans for the busway, but they should realise that these plans are now the responsibility of the Mayor of the Peterborough and Cambridgeshire Combined Authority not of the County Council. Why don’t EWR Co. know this? Furthermore, the new Mayor has dropped the Cambridge Autonomous Metro. This means that the roadmap for the busway is in a state of flux.

What will the situation be like in 2050 if 271,000 more houses have been built in the Cambridgeshire area?

CBRR Trench Design

CBRR are proposing a particular design for their structural trench which makes it suitable for use in low lying areas in flood plains. Figure 4 shows a cross-section of this trench.

Figure 4 CBRR Trench Cross Section

The main features are as follows:

  • Trains run in a trench of neutral buoyancy so most of the time it neither tries to float or sink
  • Flood walls on either side
  • Inverted siphons to allow any flood waters to pass beneath the railway line
  • ‘Green’ crossings about every 500m for any roads, PROWs or agricultural access

Trench Railways around the world

Figure 5 Trench Railway on HS1 Near Dagenham

The designers of the CBRR proposal used a similar approach for the design of a section of the HS1 link near Dagenham which has since been implemented (see Figure 5)

Figure 6 San Gabriel Trench Railway

The technique is used for the San Gabriel railway near Los Angeles in a place where there is an earthquake risk and where it won a Californian design award in 2019 (see Figure 6). The currently proposed central section of East West Railway does not look like it is about to win a design award.

Figure 7 Brussels to Amsterdam High Speed Railway in South Holland

The high-speed line between Brussels and Amsterdam also uses the same idea (see Figure 7). See for example this stretch on the approaches to a tidal river called Dordrecht Kil. As with the CBRR approach, the railway goes underneath. Note the water in the ditches on either side of the line – this is a really low-lying area. Dutch engineers know a thing or two about working in flood plains. EWR Co. imply that the precious green belt approaches to Cambridge do not warrant such a low impact design. Perhaps in Holland the government values the environment more than EWR Co. appear to.

Comparison of a Trench and an Embankment

In our previous post relating to the embankments of EWR Co.’s proposed Great Wall, we described the likely dimensions of such structures.

It is perhaps worth comparing the scale of the two side by side to show their cross sections.

Figure 8 Comparison of an 70m wide embankment with a 10m wide trench

This is shown in Figure 8 above. The trench is narrow, reducing land-take and facilitating crossings. It is also deep enough to hide the 4m high trains and any overhead line equipment. The embankment is just the opposite, and may even be worse if it needs a noise barrier on top. 

We talked about land-take in our earlier post about farming, but these embankments would be much worse due to the direct land-take and the difficulty of getting across them. We have spoken a local farmer who told us that his family had worked and developed their farm for 5 generations, but if this happened, it would all be over.

Other farmers have been estimating the effective loss of farm land due to uneconomically sized and shaped plots left by cutting fields indiscriminately. The land that would fall directly under the embankments are a small part of the total lost. The ease of crossing trenches is really important to farming. 

Conclusion

We have set out a variety of railway structures and ranked them in order of their impact from high to low. EWR Co. have proposed using high impact techniques for both their southern and northern approaches through the Cambridge green belt as though there was no alternative and to hideous effect.

During the current consultation, EWR Co. have objected to the use of low impact railway designs at all on the grounds of CO2 emissions associated with their construction. They have not compared it with their own high impact proposals on those grounds. Nor have they even mentioned them in their analysis despite them having been published by CBRR for use where necessary and for all to see in 2018. 

Their comments seem to indicate a disrespect for the environment and for local residents. This is a shame on multiple levels, not least since we presume that one of the objectives of the OxCam Arc is to create an area will people will actually want to live. 

The fact that EWR Co. CEO Simon Blanchflower speaking on Radio Cambridgeshire recently said that he would not want the railway coming near the village where he lives, speaks volumes. It can be compared to the moment in 1992 when Gerald Ratner described one of his companies’ jewellery products as ‘crap’. This led to severe damage to Ratners’ business. But what will happen to the state-owned monopoly EWR Co.? How unpopular do their proposals have to be to have any effect?

We have presented some background to set the railway construction in the context of the OxCam Arc and its toxic assumption that a million homes will be constructed by 2050. This is so that the attempt by EWR Co. to take the moral high ground on climate change can be seen in context. If there is a case for the EWR, it is as part of the OxCam Arc with all that that entails.

CBRR’s experienced engineers have shown how where necessary, low impact design techniques can be applied to the northern approach. Although not described in this article a lot more could be done with a southern approach to reduce the impact with trenches, tunnels and putting the railway under roads, railways and rivers. The CBRR design sets the standard that we want to see in the green belt of Cambridge.


[1] Our approach to Mitigating the Impact of Noise and Vibration in Local Communities, Section entitled Low-impact route alignment.

[2] “Partnering for Prosperity”, NIC Report 2018.

[3] Planning for Sustainable Growth in the Oxford Cambridge Arc: An introduction to the Oxford-Cambridge Arc Spatial FrameworkFebruary 2021

[4] What is the carbon footprint of a house?

[5] The Oxford-Cambridge Arc; An Environmental Catastrophe – Professor David  Rogers. 30 April 2021

[6] Making Meaningful Connections Technical Report Appendix A §1.2

[7] Stonehaven Derailment August 2020

[8] CBRR Preliminary Alignment Notes May 2018, revised Sept 2018

[9] Making Meaningful Connections, Technical Report Appendix F