Reflections on EWRCo.’s Haslingfield Drop-In Event 12th October 2022

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.”

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.

Illustration of the 10m high Embankments Proposed by EWRCo. for their Great Wall

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.

Bin Posters “Show us the Business Case in Haslingfield and Surrounding Villages

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.

Topographic map of the Haslingfield area with EWR proposals. This does not show what it would look like during the years of construction.

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.

Deflecting Questions

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.

  1. I can’t answer that, I just want to build things.
  2. I’ve just been with EWR for 2 months, I’ll ask a colleague
  3. I wasn’t with the project then
  4. We are studying that
  5. Big infrastructure projects all do it this way, we’re following standard procedures
  6. 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?
  7. We’d like to publish the business case, but we are still progressing it
  8. We are looking at lowering the very high embankments
  9. On the subject of the route: “it has to go somewhere”
  10. You will need to speak to X, but they are not here today
  11. 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.”


  1. I’ll talk to you when you have calmed down, I’m human and understand your concerns.
  2. 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?”
  3. ‘It’s not like ‘the Apprentice’ you know, it’s not a quick thing…it’s really complicated.

More Deflection

  1. 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.
  2. We have already lost 10-20% of the value of our homes, will there be any compensation for that? – silence.

Conflicting Information

  1. 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.

Comment Please

Do join in with your experiences in the comments. If you actually learnt anything that would be even better.

31 replies on “Reflections on EWRCo.’s Haslingfield Drop-In Event 12th October 2022”

I have interacted with EWR Co on so many occasions over the past 2 years. My conclusion is that it is institutionally incapable of answering a straight question with a straight answer. So much of the anger and frustration felt is due to its arrogance and failure to engage in genuine two-way communication.

Completely agree. Lots of waffle and no straight answers. Where are the results of the consultation? Where is the honesty?

Anthony Browne MP conspicuous by his absence? Now that his party (sic) has said they want to fast-track the scheme is he keeping his head low trying to curry favour with his new bosses?

EWR and their representatives are sticking to their key messages like a record player. There is no new fact based information for them or from them. The proposed route and design is still the cheap and easy option in order to not over bloat a request for funding.

I wonder what the new Chancellor’s views are on East West Rail Sections 2&3 if he is asking all departments to identify savings.

Estimated Passenger numbers are nowhere to be seen; no business case; no benefits to any residents across S2&3 as none are able to use it without stations; claims of faster journeys and connecting people are false-truths.

EWR S2&3 is an obvious candidate for the savings contribution.

Grant Shapps former Transport Secretary can share his views on this.

Q: why is this diesel? Answer: it’s not. Q: really? Q: Well we don’t want it to be but it’s up to the government.

The sheer number of residents who came out of the drop-in too angry to talk – because EWR do not give answers to our questions, because they come up with no evidence to back up their designs, and because of the way EWR have gone about this ‘consultation’, treating us like idiots.
They wanted to meet us for the first time face to face – well I hope they now understand the huge strength of feeling against this ridiculous project.

This analysis would be very funny if it wasn’t so tragic! EWR representatives admitted 3 years ago the purpose of the railway is to give an excuse for building a million new homes. Why??? For whom??? They have consistently lied or fudged the truth and Wednesday’s event was no different from the previous three years’ shambolic attempt to deceive.

To most questions, the EWR representative told me: ‘it is not my area’. So I had to ask what was his area? – Land acquisition.

New Chancellor and more rational approach to economy gives some hope of change from Truss’ expression of support for EWR on local radio. Cuts in govt expenditure are coming- EWR would be easy target. Worth keeping up pressure on local MPs and also local govt- too many of whom have expressed a degree of support for EWR and Ox-Cam arc

Great Haslingfield village turn out for the EWR protest. Spent many hours talking to residents , other parties and everybody I spoke to was totally apposed to the EWR and route options. Fancy thinking that ripping thought the Cambridgeshire countryside was ever going to be a good idea, particularly as it offers nothing to the community it most impacts . It was interesting to note that EWR had not even come up with a single justification for the business case… I asked about why the last Non Statutory survey conducted had not been published yet … doubtless they did not like the results … anyway the response was they want to , but can’t for some unexplained reason. Mind you this seems to be the general approach from EWR reps when confronted with even reasonable questions…. Avoid and or defer. Nothing to see here …. Move on.

Can’t think of anything to say which is positive about East West Rail Co. As a branch of the Department for Transport it reflects the disconnect so clearly evident in national government these days.

The 3D map was excellent. I can’t say I got good answers to my questions – everything sensible seems to get a “no” because of cost.

So I come at this from an environmental perspective, where the evidence is clear that we need urgently to shift away from cars and toward public transport and active transport. So the question that I asked all three people that I talked to was, Can you look me in the eye and tell me that this project will, in the short term (that is within one or two decades because that’s at most all the time we have left) help to address the climate and ecological collapse we are now facing?
Re greenhouse gas emissions, because they don’t have actual figures of either the number of people who will replace car journeys with train journeys or the amount of freight which will be taken off the roads, they could not do so. They indicated they were sure in the long term, i.e., the lifetime of the railway, that it would reduce emissions, but this was based on projected growth along the lines, so not reducing overall emissions, only the increased emissions of more homes and towns along the route. I then asked if they thought that was good enough, given the truly terrifying future we now face, and they agreed it probably wasn’t.
Re ecological collapse they were even less certain, as the evidence on that front does not support this route choice.
They also said that more detailed passenger number forecasts would be released later. So if the numbers don’t add up to a positive environmental outcome, I then asked, will the project be reconsidered? There was no answer to that.
I found the three people I spoke to pleasant and open to reason, and I hope that our conversation and the others they had with the rest of our community will have affected them. Like the rest of us, they are stuck being part of an utterly broken and dysfunctional system based on discredited neo-liberal economic policy (free market, low regulation, underfunded public services, and most disastrously, ecosystem services like climate, soil, pollinators, air and water not counted as part of GDP). For this reason it is normal for them to prioritise profit making and cost cutting, just as all of us probably do. Until we as a society can agree that our number one priority should be the long term health of our planet and our global community I think we will be stuck with this kind of thinking. But I’m hopeful that change is coming.

Spot-on comments … accurate account as always. No news and again leaves those affected with sleepless nights of worrying about the outcome … EWR have not answered any of the questions being raised formally through their consultation (17 months ago) – 70 signatory letter enquiring for business case – and individuals writing themselves. Thank goodness we have Cambridge Approaches … keep going guys … doing a great job!

The Victorians managed to build a bold and ambitious transportation system that benefitted everyone it passed through. It took into consideration local impact, and made it an asset to the community: The London Underground. All with minimal modern technology.

On the other hand, EWR S2&3 with all the modern technologies available, lacks ambition in its design, does not benefit the thousands of residents that it will pass through and is absent of facts to support its claims.

I am sorry to say this, but the consultation was a complete waste of our time and an insult to our intelligence. Of the four (?) maps on display only one had a northern route. I asked why and was told “…..because the majority favour the Southern route…..”. Really, I said, how did you come to that conclusion? Answer came there none! Keep going, Cambridge Approaches, you are doing a grand job.

I asked about many things but one thing really floored me. I asked what their projected passenger numbers were, thinking that their assessment of how many tracks/cost might be required on the northern route and they replied we base it on how many trains we are projecting to run!!! Running empty trains!!! The other unbelievable reply was they were building a passenger railway, freight capable! Pushed on this point they said their focus was passengers, I took them back to my first question, “How many passengers?” SILENCE.
They have £900m (?) Sloshing around and won’t listen or be persuaded. Who do we, the objectors, approach next as no-one in authority seems to take a stand against them!

Having attended the Wyboston event I can attest that all of the things said above occurred. I also spoke to a ‘I’ve not worked for EWR for long, I’ll get a colleague’. At one point I had three people around me, and didn’t get a straight answer from any of them. I got a lot of ‘I don’t know the answer to that, it’s not my area’ , but didn’t think to ask what area of expertise the chap I was speaking to was in. Perhaps I also had the land acquisition bloke!

The banner on arrival said that EWR representatives would be identifiable by their striped lanyards. No-one had a striped lanyard.

I felt sorry for the junior EWR people, sent out to defend their party line with no facts and no information, headless chickens come to mind. I have written to the new chancellor recommending cancellation with a saving of seven plus billion pounds. Copied to Anthony Browne. Congratulations and thanks to Cambridge Approaches for all you are doing for us.

I agree with all above. I was also told that there would not be diesel trains but renewables! Of which I’m not aware of any in use and long way off development. Asked what would happen with the level crossing in Harston, the EWR woman I spoke didn’t even appear to know one existed, as she ignored me and didn’t answer. There was a lot of very angry residents in the room.
Thank you Cambridge Approaches for your hard work and keeping us informed.

Full marks to Cambridge Approaches for such a good bit of ‘guerrilla’ PR (and thanks to whoever was in the elephant!). The EWR hogwash was as expected, but it was good to see that the Northern Route was featured as a possibility.

I spent a long time with the very nice guy who’s speciality was infrastructure and buying trains. Interesting to hear that the work at Oxford to transform the station only includes ‘passive’ (i.e. ‘leave space’) provision for electrification, like the rest of EWR. Hydrogen-powered trains and ‘discontinuous’ electrification (i.e. battery powered trains) featured in the discussion, both expensive and performance-impacting technologies that are incompatible with 90 MPH linespeeds and/or a fast timetable. It’s going to be diesel power for the foreseeable future.

My main conclusion after a ‘hard’ discussion with the woman who seemed to be in charge (and was up for a robust argument) was that there are no new points we can make (to EWR) – they have a mandate (and a budget) to deliver a plan and that (taking into account all our comments) is what they will do. I’d suggest our efforts need to be focussed on making sure local politicians (South Cambs etc.) are made to feel thoroughly ashamed for their support of this developer/housing growth-led project, and helping to direct Jeremy Hunt to spend the limited government money on things that are more much important to us all.

Yes, the Cambridge cancer research and children’s hospitals for example and Addenbrookes 3 (new acute hospital project).

As Cambridge Approaches points out regularly, there are no big cities along the proposed EWR route, making a passenger business case extremely difficult to establish (Transpennine Rail has lots of passengers, but is still a rail project in lots of trouble for the same sort of reasons as EWR ought to be – see the Financial Times article in early September by Tim Harford “Megaprojects often end up late and hideously over budget. Why?”). Interesting therefore to hear a member of the EWR team at the drop-in describe Cambridge as a “big city”. We may punch above our weight, but we are definitely a small city at only half the size of Milton Keynes, which is not exactly a megalopolis.
This difficulty may explain, in part, EWR Co’s quiet pivot towards freight…. I wonder if Cambridge City knows? Probably not because they are so disinterested that EWR has recently merged its Cambridge City and Cambridge and surrounding areas local representatives groups because no-one turned up at the second Cambridge City meeting and only one councillor turned up at the first. The attendance by city councillors at the Cambridge City and surrounding areas group hasn’t been large either.

The meeting was probably more of an intelligence gathering exercise
for EWRail. They can can then formulate future responses.
Has The Office of Budget Responsibility been approached for their
views on the project?.

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