Track and signalling

22.11.18

Council voices several ‘critical’ objections to East West Rail Phase 2 plans

A county council has expressed a number of issues deemed “unacceptable” and “critical” relating to Network Rail’s application for a Transport and Works Act Order (TWAO) to build East West Rail (EWR) Phase 2 – stretching from Bicester to Bedford.

In a report due to be considered by its board today, Buckinghamshire County Council listed a range of concerns that it argued must be resolved prior to TWAO approval. At the moment, pending agreement from councillors, Buckinghamshire holds two ‘holding objects’ to the scheme’s second phase.

While the local authority is supportive of the scheme “in principle” and is keen to see the project progress, it has some “significant concerns” around four areas: traffic and transport; ecology; public rights of way; and geology, soils and land contamination.

For example, Buckinghamshire is worried about the proposed construction route and HGV impacts, car parking and highways mitigation, as well as EWR’s impact on several public paths.

The council also argued that there is currently no commitment to achieving a net gain for biodiversity as “the officers would expect from a development of this scale.” Similarly, an area of land to the south west of Bletchley – designated as a local wildlife site – would be at risk from pollution and contamination arising from the works and the line’s operation.

Later, in mid-October, Buckinghamshire issued a second response regarding its position as a landowner, representing a second ‘holding objection.’ This expressly stated its intention to retain land that had been allocated for the construction of a future car park at the proposed Winslow station site, which had been included within the list of areas Network Rail wanted to acquire.

A public inquiry for this scheme is scheduled for February next year, after which the inspector will make a recommendation to the transport secretary for his consideration. The county council will have the option of presenting oral evidence during this inquiry.

When Network Rail applied for a TWAO on 27 July, the EWR Consortium of Councils – which includes Buckinghamshire County Council – issued a statement in support, calling it a “hugely significant milestone” after more than 20 years campaigning for the reopening of the Varsity Line.

Later, on 11 September, the group submitted its letter of support as part of the TWAO process for the scheme’s western section.

“East West Rail provides an attractive, viable alternative to the car through the restoration of the mothballed section of the railway, enabling fast and frequent scheduled rail services which by improving connectivity, will support the delivery of planned growth,” said the group’s chairman, Cllr Mark Shaw.

EWR’s Phase 2 forms part of the wider project designed to connected Cambridge to Oxford. The first phase, which operates services between Oxford and Bicester, was finished in December 2016, while Phase 2 extends services from Oxford to Bedford and Milton Keynes to Aylesbury. The proposal for the third and final phase, deemed the ‘central section,’ is currently in development.

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