Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Network Rail to reconsider 'ugly' gantries

NETWORK Rail might replace the ?ugly? steel gantries it has installed along the tracks in the Goring area.

NETWORK Rail might replace the ?ugly? steel gantries it has installed along the tracks in the Goring area.

The company, which put up the plain grey structures in preparation for the electrification of the Great Western main line, is to launch a retrospective public consultation in the new year.

It is considering ways of making them less intrusive and will be exhibiting alternative designs.

However, it says any changes would be subject to government funding and would have to be effective from an engineering point of view.

Network Rail began installing the gantries in the spring. They stand about 100 metres apart and will support overhead power cables.

A residents? action group has campaigned against the work, saying it spoils views of the open countryside around Goring and is inappropriate development in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Goring Parish Council, the Chilterns Conservation Board and the directors of the neighbouring North Wessex Downs have called for a more discreet design of gantry.

The work didn?t need planning permission as it is permitted development but objectors claim it is unlawful because Network Rail broke the rules on building in an AONB. Under section 85 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, such developments must ?have regard to the purpose of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the area?.

Claire Forrest, information officer for the Chilterns Conservation Board, said: ?We are pleased by Network Rail?s promise as this is something it should have done before the work began. We are pushing very hard for the design to be revised so it is more appropriate for this protected landscape.

?We want to see something with a lower impact and believe it is Network Rail?s statutory duty to provide this. There are illustrations of more elegant designs in circulation so it would not be starting completely from scratch.

?Network Rail should have considered using these to start with and seems to have paid no attention to the location they were building in. They?ve used the heaviest and ugliest design instead, which is a real shame.?

Ian Haslam, who leads the action group, said: ?Network Rail wrote to us saying they would like to do this but that it would depend on money and the feedback from the consultation. We?ve basically told them ?thank you, but your offer isn?t strong enough?. They?ve broken the law and shouldn?t only be willing to do it if the numbers are right. They should want to make the work lawful.?

Two weeks ago Network Rail held a drop-in meeting about the gantries at South Stoke village hall, which was attended by about 700 people.

Details of future meetings are yet to be announced but the company says it will aim to hold at least one in Goring. It said it could not give a timescale but promised to keep people updated.

Since the electrification programme began in 2013, its estimated cost has rocketed from £874million to at least £2.5billion.

Last month, the Commons? public accounts committee criticised both Network Rail and the rail regulator, saying ?such poor planning? was ?unbelievable and unacceptable?.

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