News release from 06/03/2019

Council: East West Rail must benefit environment, residents and economy

Council: East West Rail must benefit environment, residents and economy

Councillors say the proposed East West railway should benefit the environment, economy and residents – but are calling for greater clarity about the numbers of additional new homes that might come forward.

South Cambridgeshire District Council already has plans to deliver 22,000 new jobs and 19,500 new homes by 2031 via its approved Local Plan and is keen to understand the scale of further growth that may be brought forward by East West Rail.

Promoters of the railway say their aim is to create a new connection between Oxford and Cambridge. They say the western section of the route can be built by reinstating and upgrading old railway lines, but the central section between Bedford and Cambridge needs a new line entirely. This section would pass through South Cambridgeshire and is the focus of a consultation by the promoters.

At a meeting of South Cambridgeshire District Council’s Cabinet today (Wednesday 6 March) Councillors discussed the response that the authority will be making to the consultation.

Five route options are currently being consulted on and all include a proposed station either around Cambourne or at Bassingbourn Barracks. The consultation indicates there is the potential for significant additional housing and jobs that aren’t already planned around whichever station is selected. The preferred route is due to be announced later in the year.

The Council’s response makes clear that it supports the principle of the Bedford to Cambridge section of the new railway line – saying it has the potential to be “transformational for the regional economy” and boost local industries such as life sciences, IT and digital. Councillors had already stated that the environment must be fully considered by the promoters of the line. At a full Council meeting in September last year, Members backed a motion that said that the railway line “presents us with an unprecedented opportunity to make positive contributions to net biodiversity and natural capital gains”.

The response adds that there’s currently uncertainty about the substantial numbers of new homes – that aren’t currently planned – around wherever a new station is located. The Council is calling for greater clarity regarding the evidence around this to be provided. The response goes on to say that any additional growth must be supported by the necessary transport links, services and utilities and enhance the natural environment. The Council makes clear its response to the consultation does not prejudice its in-depth consideration of growth and strategy issues through the upcoming Greater Cambridge Local Plan.

The Council says the route options put forward by East West Rail for a new station at Cambourne could be preferable to those that include one at Bassingbourn. This is because it is believed that a rail connection at Cambourne would also help bring forward new homes that are already planned there and make it easier for existing residents to be less reliant on their cars. This route would also avoid potential environmental impacts on conservation areas such as Wimpole Hall. Finally, the Council asks that any plans for a station at Cambourne are brought forward in a complementary way to the emerging proposals for a Cambridge Autonomous Metro, which could provide a convenient transfer from East West Rail onto local public transport.

With plans for a future Cambridge South station continuing to be developed, the Council’s response also emphasises the need for any new line to have links to this future terminal at the Cambridge Biomedical Campus.

South Cambridgeshire District Council’s Deputy Leader and Lead Cabinet Member for Strategic Planning and Transport, Cllr Aidan Van de Weyer (pictured - above), said: “We have already been very clear that the environment should be protected and enhanced by East West Rail and this is a key theme in our response. The principle of a new railway line is positive, but we will be pushing to keep the environmental impact high up the agenda in the process. For example, the environment could benefit if the new rail link follows a similar path to the recently-announced A428 improvements. That could mean some necessary facilities, such as electricity lines for lighting, could be shared between the two.

“We already have plans for nearly 20,000 new homes in South Cambridgeshire and are eager to understand exactly how additional homes on top of this would be expected to come forward as part of East West Rail. Right now, the uncertainty in this area makes it difficult to truly grasp the environmental and community impacts of the project and I’m keen to hear more from East West Rail on this.

“What is clear though is that this has the potential to bring significant change to South Cambridgeshire communities and I’m looking forward to working closely with East West Rail and ensuring the voices of these communities continue to be heard.”

The consultation response discussed by Cabinet can be found on this part of our website.