'Don't drive railway through our rural heart' urges mayor

St Neots Town Council is unhappy with the EWR plans for the town.

St Neots Town Council is unhappy with the EWR plans for the town. - Credit: ARCHANT

St Neots Town Council (SNTC) has formally asked East West Rail to "urgently reconsider" its plans to develop on land to the east of the town as part of the proposed Cambridge to Oxford rail project.

In its formal response to the company, SNTC is heavily critical of plans which could include the construction of two large viaducts that will pass close to developments where thousands of new homes are being built.

EWR routes one, two, and nine include plans for two viaducts, and the council has stated previously that this detail was "buried" in the documentation it received.

SNTC said in its response: "In our view, the trains that use these viaducts, the viaduct structures themselves and the construction of the viaducts will cause unacceptable levels of noise, particulate and visual pollution to the residents of St Neots east and the surrounding rural communities.

"We are surprised that EWR has aligned its preferred routes in close proximity to one of the largest housing developments in the East of England. None of the five corridors considered in the first phase of the consultation included this land, and the late inclusion has come as a shock to residents, housing developers and the town council."

An EWR spokesperson told The Hunts Post last month: "Depending on which alignment option is selected following the current consultation, there may be two viaducts approximately 800m and 1 km respectively to the east of St Neots, one of which would be where the railway crosses the A428 road”.

According to EWR drawings, the maximum height of the viaduct will be 12 metres (39 feet), which occurs at the point of closest proximity to the housing developments. The 800m and 1km distances quoted refer to the distance between the track and existing housing developments and do not account for the planned construction inside that radius.

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SNTC is opposed to the construction of the viaducts and asks EWR to urgently reconsider plans to align these routes with the eastern edge of the town.

The council is also unhappy that the plans "fail to provide any binding commitment" to deliver a net-zero carbon railway.

"Having resolved to declare a climate emergency in March 2019, St Neots Town Council is therefore opposed to the construction of a non-electrified railway that is designed to use diesel rolling stock. We urge EWR to make a legally binding commitment to deliver a net-zero railway and that the railway will be electrified from the outset," the council pointed out in its formal repsonse.

The council says it also requires more evidence on the economic value of the project, especially as there could be long-term and fundamental changes in working and commuting patterns for many people in a post-pandemic world.

It went on to say: "It seems likely that the two preferred routes proposed by EWR will result in a significant increase in noise, inconvenience and pollution from the construction and operation of this railway. This is in addition to a permanent negative impact on the rural landscape to the east of St Neots and the potential ecological and environmental consequences of the project."

St Neots mayor, Stephen Ferguson, said: “I am opposed to 39ft railway viaducts in St Neots East. I am opposed to the construction of diesel railways in a climate emergency. I also think that rapid development in automated personal electric transport will mean that this railway could be obsolete shortly after it is built.”

“I urge EWR and Her Majesty’s Government to urgently reconsider these plans to drive a non-electrified railway through the rural heart of the East of England.”

EWR says it posted consultation summaries to 270,000 households along the route and provided detailed and expansive information, including a technical report, in its documentation. 

EWR chief executive Simon Blanchflower. 

EWR chief executive Simon Blanchflower. - Credit: EWR

EWR  chief executive, Simon Blanchflower, said: "We are delighted that so many people have already taken the opportunity to give their views on our developing plans for the railway. Getting this feedback is so important and your views will help us make sure we can make the most of this once-in-a-generation opportunity to provide new, reliable, sustainable transport for communities from Oxford to Cambridge."