East West Rail challenged on environment, economy, electrification and community impact in consultation reply
Electrification of the line from day one, more evidence on the preferred approach into Cambridge, more ambition on the environment, and minimising impacts on communities have formed part of the Combined Authority’s East West Rail (EWR) consultation response.
The Combined Authority Board approved the response at its meeting on Wednesday (June 30). As part of the approval, the Board’s requested robust representations to EWR in the areas of environment, public health and wellbeing, and the importance of not cutting off communities.
The response was submitted to EWR on Monday, July 5.
The Combined Authority is supportive of EWR, a rail line connecting Oxford, Milton Keynes, Bedford and Cambridge, and it forms key part of its transport strategy document, the Local Transport Plan.
Areas of challenge highlighted in the response include:
- Electrification of the line from day one to avoid the need for diesel locomotives. This will be essential in achieving net zero carbon, while also reducing future costs of retrofitting. EWR’s environmental principles should include clear and measurable carbon reduction targets, where currently they don’t, and not undermine the Combined Authority’s own ambition in this area.
- Greater ambition needed on increasing biodiversity and to align with the Oxford-Cambridge Arc Leadership Group’s shared principles on increasing nature, targeting a 20% biodiversity net gain. The consultation proposes a 10% biodiversity net gain for EWR.
- Minimisation of impacts on public health and wellbeing by addressing concerns around noise, poor air quality, visual impact and avoiding new infrastructure cutting off communities by severing roads, footpaths and other rights of way. Consideration needs to be given to the impacts on health, including through better access to jobs and services, opportunities to be physically active getting to and from stations, impacts on vulnerable groups and how EWR could promote stronger, more connected communities.
- The importance of providing the transport capacity to support the future sustainability of a high growth economy. Locations of stations and interchanges should relate to plans for future growth contained in Local Plans.
- Exploring the potential of EWR to stop at St Neots, using the existing station, to boost growth and regeneration in the area. The response also proposed the potential for linking EWR with the East Coast Mainline.
- EWR should also integrate seamlessly into the existing transport network, including roads, rail and buses.
The response also looked forward to better engagement from EWR with the Combined Authority to address the issues outlined in the consultation response more fully.
Mayor of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough, Dr Nik Johnson, said:
“East West Rail is very important to this region’s transport future, but it is vital that we ensure it offers the widest possible benefits to our people, communities, environment and the economy, and that any negative impacts are minimised. That’s what this consultation response aims to address. It is essential that East West Rail comes to the table on these issues and this consultation response is just one part of what I hope will be a collaborative partnership. Getting these matters resolved at an early stage will be critical to East West Rail’s success and we saw at the Combined Authority Board meeting just how important this is to leaders representing communities in every district of this area.
“I recognise concerns in our communities about whether the line should run into Cambridge from the north or south. This consultation only deals with routes coming into Cambridge from the south, but I think the best way to address the worries people have is to have a full and proper consultation on northern options too.
“I also encourage exploring how East West Rail can serve St Neots, to improve transport in the town, take pressure off roads and help boost growth. I’m concerned that a stop further away from the town will be used to justify thousands of new homes, without bringing benefits to the people of St Neots. Again, this is a matter which I will continue to raise with East West Rail as part of ongoing dialogue.”