South Cambs advisers slam East West Rail for ‘lack of details’ in consultation
South Cambridgeshire District Council is asking East West Rail for more information, with prominent advisers criticizing ‘insignificant’ details provided by the ongoing consultation.
The conservative opposition group has called on the council’s liberal administration to “toughen up” its response to the consultation on the proposed new railway line.
The East West Rail Company – created by the government in 2017 – is currently consulting on its preferred route which would pass south of Cambridge via Cambourne.
In a public meeting on Monday May 24, South Cambridgeshire District Council Cabinet discussed its response to East West Rail’s ongoing non-statutory consultation, which is due to end on June 9.
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Council response “ really big step ”
Lib Dem adviser Aidan Van de Weyer said the document the council is submitting in response is a “very big step forward in expressing South Cambridgeshire views” to East West Rail and the government.
The council says it supports the new railway line in principle – a decision it made in 2018. A number of aspects align with the council’s priorities, the document says, such as reducing dependency with respect to private cars, supporting and facilitating the growth and provision of new homes and its potential economic benefits.
But the council is also asking for more information in a number of areas, including asking East West Rail to publish more information on its assessments of transport options north and south of Cambridge to justify its preference for the south. .
It also calls for a more in-depth assessment of the impact of the project on the landscape, heritage sites and ecology of the region.
The council says it wants the project to be fully electric from the start, and provide a 20 percent net gain in biodiversity rather than the currently “unambitious” 10 percent.
He says there is “a potential for significant negative impacts on local residents and businesses, cutting off communities and local connectivity,” and adds: “We ask that whatever route is chosen, the detailed design carefully addresses the issue of severance pay ”.
Response “ harden ”
Conservative Councilor Richard Williams called on the administration to “toughen up” parts of the response on landscape and community separation, saying it should oppose “community separation” and building structures. “Intrusive”.
He praised the council’s “strong line” on electrification, but said it should be matched in other areas.
Cllr Van de Weyer said East West Rail and the government have made choices and expressed their preferences “on the basis of information that we don’t have”.
He said the council’s response highlights “the little information that has been provided to us in order to arrive at a view on route options”.
He said East West Rail and government “have not been open and transparent” and added that “it undermines confidence in government decision-making if we don’t get the information we need”.
Lib Dem adviser Brian Milnes said the council’s response is “entirely limited by the nature of East West Rail’s proposals which are very trivial.” He said he looks forward to seeing “firmer proposals” from East West Rail.
Deputy head of the council, Lib Dem adviser Neil Gough, said East West Rail would be “possibly the most important piece of infrastructure that will come to our district in the next decade or so.”
He said council recognizes that this will “substantially” affect residents in both construction and operation, and said the response document clearly sets out the council’s expectations on behalf of residents.
He said the board will be “active and involved with East West Rail as the plans develop.”
Cllr Gough said he admits that landscape impact and separation are “key issues” and said he was “happy” to “see what we can do to exacerbate our concerns on these issues”.
Council chief Lib Dem Bridget Smith said she believed the language was “strong enough” and said the council would “show leadership” in its response.
“ East West Rail prevarication ”
Senior cabinet member for strategic planning, Lib Dem advisor Tumi Hawkins, said she was “extremely disappointed with East West Rail” on the information provided.
She said: “The lack of information from them, the prevarication, it’s mind-boggling I think. And yet they expect us to give them answers. What response do you expect from us? And in fact, Cllr Heather Williams, we can’t go one way or the other if we don’t have the information we need ”.
While cabinet has agreed that amendments will now be made to the document in response to comments from advisers, it will not return to a public forum for debate.
The cabinet has delegated authority to finalize the document to its senior cabinet member for strategic planning, Lib Dem Cllr Tumi Hawkins, and its joint director of planning and economic development, Stephen Kelly.
Mr Kelly said it was possible to “refine” the response in line with Cllr Williams’ criticisms. He said that in some cases the response is limited by the level of detail available.
He said that “other steps in the process will include a statutory consultation during which the board will hopefully be able to be more specific in terms of responses. At this stage of the process, we are looking for additional information ”.
He said: “I would caution against absolutes at this point because, as the report notes, we just don’t have all the technical information and technical ratings to definitely comment on.”
What did East West Rail say?
A spokesperson for the East West Rail Company said: ‘We have been in regular contact with South Cambridgeshire District Council since the 2019 consultation through a number of different meetings and conversations.
“We spoke with their senior representatives as well as their Roads, Archeology and Historic Environment teams, as well as the Greater Cambridge Shared Planning team, to share information every step of the way. .
“We will continue to work with local authorities and talk to ward, ward and county councilors along the route as the project develops, and in light of these comments we will be in contact with council.” District of South Cambridgeshire to fully understand their concerns. “