This post looks at East West Rail Company’s (EWR Co’s) arguments for rejecting a northern approach proposed by CamBedRailRoad (CBRR) and to provide the evidence to rebut their claims.
EWR Co presented their reasons in chapter 16 of the Preferred Route Option Report, issued in January 2020. (Preferred-Route-Option-Report)
They briefly set out the historic development of the approach into Cambridge from the south – it was based on Network Rail’s assessment in 2014 which was never discussed or consulted on with the public. EWR Co state that they have reviewed this decision before the last public consultation and that it ‘appeared to remain sound’.
Chapter 16 goes on to infer that the public supported this approach. Cambridge Approaches have already reviewed this claim in a previous post (CA post – fair consultation) and consider it to be flawed. In essence, EWR Co stated that a third of responses did not express a view, with the other two-thirds being broadly evenly split between agreeing and disagreeing with EWR Co’s decision to prioritise route options that approach Cambridge from the south and so implying that there no significant opposition to it. In fact, Cambridge Approaches more detailed and specific analysis from parish councils (which we took as proxy for public opinion) shows that almost three quarters of these parish councils either expressed a desire for a consultation on a northern approach (54%) or that there was insufficient information (17%) to make a choice.
Before we go on to review EWR Co’s arguments, we note that they have specifically removed the chord (track connection) proposed by CBRR on Coldham’s Common claiming that it:
- would not serve Cambridge Station (it is not intended to serve Cambridge Station, at least for freight)
- it would increase the capital cost of the project (yes, marginally, but needs to be assessed against the overall cost of the entire route options which we believe favours a northern approach)
- it passes through a County Wildlife Site (yes, but again it needs to be balanced against all the other environmental sites of each approach option – a northern approach won convincingly when this was done (CA post – environmental-impact)).
In fact, this chord is essential to enable a connection from the north to connect with the eastern section of EWR without freight having to make a physical reversing move. Removing it implies that they did not understand how the CBRR route would function.
EWR Co have five main ‘selection criteria’ against which they claim all options are assessed. They have assessed the CBRR route against these criteria and use them as arguments for rejecting a northern approach. The criteria are:
- Benefits for transport users
- Supporting economic growth
- Supporting delivery of new homes
- Costs and overall affordability
- Environmental impacts and opportunities.
16.19-22 – Benefits for transport users
From EWR Co’s analysis of including the CBRR-proposed stations at Northstowe and Cambridge North into their transport model, their conclusion is that the transport user benefits of a northern approach are £200m greater than a southern approach!
They go on to state that approaching Cambridge from the north would require a reversing move at
Cambridge station for any onward journeys to/from Ipswich, and to/from Norwich and that this would increase journey times. However, EWR Co state in their Technical Report (EWR-Technical-Report)
‘Onwards services to and from the east of Cambridge (for example to and from Norwich and Ipswich) are not currently included in the indicative train service specification for EWR services and are thus not part of EWR Co’s remit.’
We therefore wonder why this scenario is presented as an argument against a northern route. If additional services are included at a later stage, it is equally possible that onward services to Stansted could be included for which the CBRR route would be considerably more suitable than a southern approach. And again, they have removed the chord on Coldham’s Common that would allow freight trains to avoid such a reversing move.
16.23-25 – Supporting economic growth
EWR Co’s own conclusion on this ‘argument’ states:
‘The economic and employment opportunities provided around Cambridge North station and the proposed Cambridge South station are considered to be similar in nature and scale.’
There is, thus, no case to argue.
16.26-27 – Supporting delivery of new homes
EWR Co state in their argument that a northern approach would support the delivery of 10,000 homes that are planned at Northstowe. As this is one of the biggest housing developments in the UK since Milton Keynes, EWR Co seem to agree with us that this is a most convincing argument for a northern approach.
They go on to state that:
‘responses to the consultation did not identify any additional housing sites that could be supported if EWR were to approach Cambridge from the north’.
Below is schematic produced by CBRR showing existing, proposed and putative housing developments in the area. The black line is CBRR’s indicative route. The size of the circles represents the population of each site. To be fair, some of these sites have only come to light as a result of the publication of the call for sites by South Cambridgeshire District Council and that publication post-dates the option E decision. But this is the ‘new information’ that EWR Co have said they would need to if they were to reconsider the approach into Cambridge.
At a stroke, this contradicts EWR Co’s argument regarding supporting delivery of new homes. The schematic shows:
- more new housing developments along the CBRR route than along the southern Option E one
- more developments to the north of the Option E area near Cambourne and so provides justification for a north Cambourne station
- a void of new housing development sites over the bulk of the Option E area.
Worryingly, EWR Co further state that:
‘Moreover, South Cambridgeshire District Council stated a preference for a route via Cambourne (Route E) that approaches Cambridge from the south.’
In fact, nowhere in SCDC’s response did they explicitly favour a southern approach over a northern approach. They supported Options B and E because they wanted EWR to serve Cambourne rather than Bassingbourn, not because it approached Cambridge from the south. They have highlighted the lack of information which would be required in order to make this decision.
‘Acknowledging the broad nature of this consultation, limited information available and significant uncertainties around growth implications, it is considered that, in principle, routes including Cambourne as a station (B and E) could be preferable to routes including Bassingbourn, for the following reasons:’ [SCDC’s underlining]
This is hardly the support that EWR Co imply.
16.28-31 – Costs and overall affordability
EWR Co consider that the upfront capital costs of the CBRR route is £600m more expensive than a southern approach. Given that the new track lengths may be broadly similar (depending on which southern alignment is chosen) and that a northern approach has about one third the number of road crossings, no river crossings and easier topography, we consider that a northerly approach may be cheaper to build than a southern approach, even allowing for a station at Northstowe.
EWR Co make allowance in their costings for crossing a new rowing lake north of Cambridge. However, the planning application for this rowing lake was withdrawn about 18 months before the EWR Co options report was published. It is therefore not an obstacle to the CBRR route.
However, the capital costs are only part of the financial picture. Revenues are the other part of the equation. EWR Co state:
‘The CBRR-based route would generate slightly higher revenues than Route B. However, these higher revenues are mostly oﬀset by higher operating costs and whole life costs arising from the longer route and additional station at Northstowe.’ [CA underlining]
The word ‘mostly’ implies that, in fact, the greater revenues from the CBRR route more than compensate for any EWR Co-claimed additional construction costs.
Further information is provided in our post: CA post – capital costs.
16.32-34 – Environmental impacts and opportunities
The argument presented for the environment just lists issues with the northern approach. It makes no mention of the environmental impacts for a southern approach yet goes on to claim that:
‘A higher level of eﬀort is therefore likely to be required to mitigate the eﬀects of the presence of multiple environmental features compared to route options that approach Cambridge from the south.’
Not only is this illogical as they only present one side of the argument, but it flies in the face of the Wildlife Trust’s analysis. This clearly shows [CA post – environmental-impact] that there are approximately twice the number of environmental sites affected by a southern route than a northern one. The conclusion that a northern approach is more environmentally friendly is supported by Natural England, Cambridge Past, Present and Future and the Campaign for Rural England support northern approach. These organisations, unlike EWR Co who are based in Milton Keynes and Westminster, know the area well.
Not mentioned by EWR Co, but vitally important to residents, is the relative environmental noise and air quality impact of the two approaches. There are approximately 7 times (yes!) the number of properties within 200m of a representative southern route than the CBRR route.
In summary, we believe that EWR Co have a poor case for their approach into Cambridge. Far from justifying a southern approach, the evidence that we have provided strongly supports a northern approach. We have pointed all this out to EWR Co both in writing and at a recent meeting with the rail minister, Chris Heaton-Harris. Despite Mr Harris requesting that EWR respond promptly, we have yet (as of 16 March 21) to receive any reply.