EWRCo. held their “no new information” drop-in event in Haslingfield, and they delivered as promised. There was indeed no new information about the proposed railway which has been blighting our communities since April Fool’s day last year.
Here at Cambridge Approaches we put in a lot of effort in to publicise their event (7,000 leaflets, 1,000 bin posters, social media campaign etc). We also invited the press along to see what was going on. This was the first chance most people have had to meet EWRCo. staff face to face. Why didn’t EWRCo. do any of that? The event was well attended and EWRCo., reported 550 attendees. Not bad on a working day for an event advertising no new information.
Local farmer Edd also kindly parked his cherry picker outside the venue and set it to a height of 10m as specified in the latest Great Wall proposals from EWRCo., we also marked out the width of their proposed embankments to 70m. Seeing the height of it, the EWRCo. spokesperson was clearly in denial and was heard to say “it will never be that high”. We advise her to read her own consultation document.
In case they were in doubt about what we would like from them, hundreds of people had put out “Show Us the Business Case” on their bins along all the main roads through the surrounding villages and in Haslingfield.
And our request was answered. The business case appeared in the form of Nellie the pantomime EWR White Elephant with a price tag of £7.6billion. Interviewed in Radio Cambridgeshire, Nellie the pantomime white elephant welcomed EWR to the herd. She said, “Like all good white elephants, EWR is ridiculous and its costs greatly exceed its benefits.”
Steve also bought along a 3D map of the area so people could see what the effect of the railway would be locally. There was lots of interest from people attending the event.
Meanwhile the Pantomime Continued in the Methodist Church
I didn’t meet anyone that was in favour of the proposed route, but maybe there were one or two. Many residents were pretty angry, but we did not get to the situation reached at the Wyboston Lakes EWR drop-in where residents of the Bedford Poets area were so angry that EWR Co. felt they had to call in the police to calm things down.
The drop-in meeting was bound to be difficult, since the interests of residents and the EWR Co. staff were clearly different and hard to reconcile. This was exacerbated by the policy of no new information sustained now for 18 months; the lack of briefing on predicable questions given to the EWRCo. staff and their generally low level of knowledge about the project. Staff turnover seems to be high and there were many new faces.
We had a de-brief session amongst some of the people from our campaign to exchange experiences we had had with the drop-in session. Here are some of the things we found.
The job given to the poorly briefed EWRCo. staff was to stand talking to angry/upset residents for six hours while giving out no new information. Tough one that. Deflecting questions was therefore the core skill. Here are some of the techniques/answers that were reported on the day.
- I can’t answer that, I just want to build things.
- I’ve just been with EWR for 2 months, I’ll ask a colleague
- I wasn’t with the project then
- We are studying that
- Big infrastructure projects all do it this way, we’re following standard procedures
- Qu. Will you disclose the business case? Ans. The DfT owns the business case – Qu. but I asked DfT and they won’t disclose it because they don’t want to upset EWRCo. Ans. What was their exact wording?
- We’d like to publish the business case, but we are still progressing it
- We are looking at lowering the very high embankments
- On the subject of the route: “it has to go somewhere”
- You will need to speak to X, but they are not here today
- Qu. Can you find this out for me? Answer: “You need to use the normal contact point”. Qu. “but I did two weeks ago and have not even received and acknowledgement. Answer “Silence.”
- I’ll talk to you when you have calmed down, I’m human and understand your concerns.
- There’s no point me answering that, you’re not going to listen to what I say. She then walks away and follows up with “Are you ready to talk?”
- ‘It’s not like ‘the Apprentice’ you know, it’s not a quick thing…it’s really complicated.
- We will compensate you if you have noise, vibration or mental distress. After [we build it] you will need to fill out a form to illustrate what is happening to your home and then we [will] evaluate it.
- We have already lost 10-20% of the value of our homes, will there be any compensation for that? – silence.
- On the question “Are you set on the southern approach to Cambridge? Answers included “yes”, “no” and “maybe”.
These are best shown by example.
EWRCo. “We’ve made no decisions yet (route consideration). I wish I could tell you that but we don’t know. There’s business case with a capital B and C and business case with a small b and c. We don’t have passenger numbers but there are so many things to visit in the area we’re sure the railway will be used. Us: So the purpose of the line is tourism? EWRCo.: yes maybe..!”
On Radio Cambridgeshire the following morning, we were treated to the following.
Dotty McLeod: “And in what way Hannah was it [the drop-in event] useful for you?”
Hannah Staunton: “It’s always helpful to be able to talk to the public, and really dial into some of the key topics and things that they’re interested in, that they could be concerned about as well. In some cases, it’s really helpful for us to be able to explain to people why some of the things that they are concerned about perhaps aren’t as concerning as they could be, or maybe talk to them about some of the benefits of the scheme that they haven’t otherwise heard. So, it’s really useful to gauge how people are feeling and what people are thinking, and then the team can go away and consider that as we go through the design and planning scheme.”
To be fair, we did not hear so much of the standard line “we are still going through the X billion pieces of feedback we received in the 2021 consultation and considering how every piece should influence what we decide” – or words to that effect. I guess even that does wear a bit thin after 18 months. In reality we are all waiting for the government to decide if they want to buy his white elephant.
Do join in with your experiences in the comments. If you actually learnt anything that would be even better.