Friday, 15 December 2017
CAMPAIGNERS hope to mount a legal challenge against Network Rail after it installed metal gantries above the tracks in the Goring area.
The company erected the steel structures as part of the electrification of the Great Western line, which cuts through the village from the south and continues into the countryside around South Stoke.
The gantries are about 70 metres apart and will hold overhead cables on the line, which connects London, Reading and Oxford, when electric trains are rolled out next year.
The Goring and South Stoke Railway Action Group, which was formed after the work started in March, says the gantries are unsightly and are causing urbanisation of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Although Network Rail didn't need planning permission, the group argues that the company has a legal obligation to consult the community first but has not done so.
It also says that under conservation laws the Chilterns AONB should have the same level of protection as a national park like the New Forest or Dartmoor.
The group believes the work is therefore unlawful and it hopes to find a planning lawyer to take up its case on a pro bono basis.
The campaigners have held several meetings with Network Rail and urged the company to come up with a less conspicuous design.
They are supported by Goring and South Stoke parish councils, Henley MP John Howell and the Chilterns Conservation Board.
However, Network Rail says the style it used for the gantries was the only one which met current laws on public safety and saving energy. It offered to plant trees to screen the railway but opponents said this would be too conspicuous due to the flat, open landscape.
Ian Haslam, the action group's leader, said: "We assumed Network Rail would consider some new designs but at our last meeting they merely tried to justify what they'd already done.
"We were very disappointed as those gantries impose on the landscape and are right over some people's houses.
"Once they put all the cables in, the whole thing will look like a big tunnel snaking through the countryside. These are the same structures they're putting up in urban areas where people will care and notice less.
"I can't imagine them doing this in a national park as they'd never get away with it.
"We believe they've ignored their statutory duty and have messed up the process but they aren't taking us seriously.
"They should be trying to get it right first time because it would be a national scandal if they were ordered to remove those gantries and install something more appropriate.
"We aren't the experts and can't say what they should propose. It's up to them to come up with designs and ask what we think.
"We understand the need for electrification and realise nothing will look perfect but they have to make more of an effort."
Mr Haslam said less intrusive designs were being drafted for the HS2 project and these could be used instead.
Network Rail has apologised for not consulting and said it was now "in a position to work with the community on possible mitigation measures".
It blamed the demands of working on "a complex, ever-accelerating programme" and said putting the work on hold would have implications for the introduction of electric trains that would benefit local people.
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