Purpose and Methods of Working

Cambridge Approaches Action group

Purpose and methods of working

Date: 5 August 2020

Background and purpose of group

Different route options (broad areas through which the line could run) of the East West Rail (EWR) Central Section (between Bedford and Cambridge) were proposed by EWR prior to an initial non-statutory consultation held in early 2019. 

Following this consultation, Option E was selected by EWR. It passes from Bedford Midland station to Cambridge through Cambourne. It is inevitable that the line will have adverse impacts on some of the people and land in this area. It was considered that an approximate alignment should be proposed in which the balance of impacts truly reflects the interests of the residents.

To implement this, an action group is being formed which will consider the area of Option E between Toft (a village to the south-east of Cambourne) and near Shepreth Junction (to the north of Great Shelford where the EWR connects with the West Anglia Main Line). The name of the action group is Cambridge Approaches Action group. 

The benefits of forming this group are to allow local residents direct input in the choice of an alignment and to obtain greater bargaining power in dealing with EWR than if parishes approached them individually.

The Cambridge Approaches Group will only consider EWR’s Route Option E as it stands, even though it is recognised that this may change. 

Technical methodology

Information gathering

Input will be requested from parishes, relevant stakeholders and public bodies wherever possible. These will include Mullard Radio Astronomical Observatory (MRAO), The Wildlife Trust, major local landowners and South Cambridgeshire County Council. This information will be considered during the assessment process.

There is a restricted area for planning purposes around the radio telescopes at MRAO. Within this area, planning permission will only be granted for development that would not result in any risk of interference to the operation of the MRAO. This area extends across the entire width of EWR’s route option E. It is understood that EWR have had discussions with the University of Cambridge about this conflict but the outcome is not known. The Cambridge Approaches Group will try to obtain relevant information for the alignment constraints from the University of Cambridge. If this is not forthcoming, the Technical Group will assume that an alignment will be able to pass within a minimum distance  of 750m from MRAO. Electromagnetic interference from the railway could be reduced by enclosing part of the route near MRAO with a light steel structure to form a Faraday cage. 

Alignment options

About five alignment options will be chosen and then methodically assessed by the technical group. 

These alignments will show possible approximate lines of the route. More detailed designs would need to be undertaken to be able to produce more refined alignments. This is outside the scope of the group.

The initial alignments will be chosen based on intuitive assessment to reduce the impacts on built-up areas, impact on environment, construction costs (e.g. cuttings, bridges, tunnels, length of track), operational costs (e.g. reduction of assets requiring maintenance, reducing operational power requirements), minimising curves in the alignments, avoid certain features (e.g. MRAO, sewage treatment works, environmentally sensitive sites) where these are known. 

These align with EWR’s stated criteria in their document ‘Our commitment to impacted landowners and occupiers’ which are:

1. Avoid residential areas

2. Reduce negative impacts to our environment

3. Reduce flood risk

The initial options will not cover all alignment possibilities and the EWR may propose other options not considered in this report.

Initial alignments may be modified as the assessment progresses to reduce impacts that come to light during the assessment, but which were initially unforeseen.

Assessment criteria

The assessment process will consider each alignment against several assessment criteria.  The criteria will include such items as impact on current noise and vibration levels, physical impact on property (e.g. demolition), impact on ecology, air quality, local historical and archaeological sites.

Given the expected levels of resources and limited time available to the Technical Group, the assessment cannot be detailed. However, it is expected that assessments can be made to a sufficient level of detail such that the final alignment choice will still be robust. 

Weightings of alignment options assessment criteria

The relative importance (weightings) of each alignment options selection criteria (e.g. whether minimising demolition of properties has a greater or lesser importance than reduction in impacts on historical sites) will be assessed by the Technical Group.

Alignment option score 

A score will be provided against each alignment option. The impact of each alignment will be assessed against each assessment criteria. This impact will then be modified by the weighting of the assessment criteria to produce a score for each alignment. This is an overall score for the whole length of each alignment option and should allow comparisons to be made for the good of the whole area.

An attempt will be made to break down this score for each parish relative to the number of properties affected (for criteria that affect properties such as noise or demolition) or the area affected (for criteria that affect the land, such as ecology). This will allow each parish to see how an alignment option affects them.

The sensitivity of alignment option scores will be tested by making small variations of the weightings of the assessment criteria. This will provide a measure of robustness (or otherwise) of the overall scores. 

Mitigation may be possible for some impacts. In these cases, scores will be produced for both the mitigated and unmitigated impacts.

These methods of scoring will be reviewed and may be varied by the Liaison and Oversight Group (see the Organisation section below).

Voting on alignment options

Each parish will have voting rights on all alignment options. These will be in proportion to the breakdown of the alignment option score for that parish. No one parish will have a veto on any alignment option. Thus, a parish with a significant number of properties that are severely impacted by a particular alignment will have a larger number of votes for that alignment than parishes for which the impact is lower (or the number of properties affected is lower). 

Voting will be carried out by the Liaison and Oversight Group after public discussion on the report (see Communications section below).

The Parishes currently involved are: 

  • The Eversdens
  • Comberton
  • Barton
  • Harlton
  • Haslingfield
  • Harston
  • Hauxton

Great Shelford

Organisation & roles

The organisation of the group will depend on resources willing to help. Given sufficient number of people, the group would be organised as below. An outline of 

Liaison and Oversight Group (LOG) – representatives of parish councils. Their roles will be to:

  • Critically review the alignment options
  • Consensus building on the chosen route option 
  • Critically review the assessment criteria
  • Critically review the weightings given to each assessment criteria
  • Liaise with the public including organisation of public meetings and updating of website and other communication channels
  • Liaise with EWR, the local MP and local authorities about the work and findings of the group
  • Persuade EWR to accept the chosen alignment
  • Provide detailed information on local features to the Technical Group (e.g. archaeological and historic sites, areas of ecological interest)

A leader of this committee will organize meetings and be a centre of communication between the participants.

Technical group (TG) – specialists in disciplines such as civil engineering, quantity surveying, acoustics, ecology, local history, archaeology, project management, project planning hydrology and computer aided design (CAD). Roles will be to:

  • Prepare technical options report, including proposal of initial alignments, selection criteria and their weightings
  • Obtain information from MRAO, local authorities and other stakeholders 
  • Discuss findings from the report with the LOG, public and other external bodies

The organization of, and communication within, the specialist group will be determined by the specialists themselves.


Work should progress to choose a preferred alignment as soon as reasonably practicable to maximise the chances of influencing EWR. If it is hoped that it can be completed by the end of October 2020.

Consensus (or voting by parish councils if consensus is not reached) is hoped to be complete by the end of November 2020.

Communications with the public

The work of the Cambridge Approaches Group will be communicated with the public on a regular, probably monthly, basis. The methods of communication will include a dedicated website and parish council announcements but may be supplemented as determined by local demand. 

The report will be made public. 

Meetings or webinars will be held with the public , the Technical Group and the Liaison and Oversight Group to discuss the report and its findings. Revisions may be made to the report to incorporate any comments as deemed pertinent by the Liaison and Oversight Group.  

Obtaining EWR’s acceptance of the chosen alignment

EWR, the local MP and local authorities will be made aware of the work being carried out by the Cambridge Approaches Group at an early stage. 

LOG will try to engage EWR in meaningful and detailed discussions from an early stage. 

Assistance will try to be obtained in persuading EWR to adopt the chosen alignment from the local MP, county and district councillors and the media.