Saturday, 21 July 2018

Network Rail under fire over gantries

PRESSURE is mounting on Network Rail to hold a public consultation over electrification work in the Goring area.

PRESSURE is mounting on Network Rail to hold a public consultation over electrification work in the Goring area.

The parish council has resolved to complain to the Government after the company installed overhead gantries at regular intervals along the line through the village.

At a meeting on Monday, councillors repeated objectors’ concerns that the work spoils views of the surrounding countryside, which falls within the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

They said people didn’t have a chance to comment before it began in March.

The council will tell Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin that Network Rail failed to hold a “proper” consultation or propose measures to offset the impact.

It will circulate the letter to Oxfordshire County Council, South Oxfordshire District Council and Henley MP John Howell and is urging residents to submit their own complaints.

The steel structures span the width of the tracks and will support overhead cables along the Great Western main line between London and Oxford, which passes through Goring. The Department for Transport says the electrification must finish by 2017, although it is behind schedule and more than twice over its original £600million budget.

Shortly after the gantries appeared, Goring and South Stoke residents formed an action group urging Network Rail to propose a more sympathetic design.

The group, which is supported by the parish council, the Chilterns Conservation Board and Mr Howell, met company representatives several times but was not satisfied with the response.

Although Network Rail didn’t need planning permission, the campaigners claim the work was unlawful due to the lack of consultation and are seeking a solicitor to mount a legal challenge.

Kevin Bulmer, the parish council’s chairman, said: “We need something better from Network Rail than what they’ve put forward so far. It’s like bashing our heads against a brick wall but it’s worth doing to support the action group’s efforts. Network Rail didn’t even understand that an AONB was a legally defined category.

“When people first complained, their response was, ‘oh well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder’.

“The Government won’t take notice unless enough people write in saying Network Rail is doing a rubbish job.

“This is an AONB and they can’t just use the cheapest and easiest engineering solution.”

Network Rail proposed planting trees to screen the line but objectors said this would clash with the flat, open nature of the countryside.

The company apologised for failing to consult but promised to hold public drop-in meetings, details of which are yet to be announced.

Mr Howell said he had already written to Mr McLoughlin and Network Rail and was awaiting a response. He added: “It is helpful that the parish council has done this as it will justify the case I have made.”

A district council spokesman said: “We’re providing advice and support to the action group and Network Rail with the aim of achieving the best outcome for everyone.”

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