Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Network Rail refuses public discussion on gantries

NETWORK Rail refused to attend a public meeting about the steel gantries it is installing along

NETWORK Rail refused to attend a public meeting about the steel gantries it is installing along the railway line through Goring.

Residents organised the event for Wednesday last week after the company started putting up the gantries last month.

It had agreed to send a representative but pulled out three days beforehand when it learned the proceedings would be open to the public.

It said it wanted a face-to-face meeting with a smaller group of protesters before attending any large gatherings.

The gantries are part of Network Rail’s electrification programme and will be used to hold overhead power cables. They are being placed at regular intervals on the route between Reading and Oxford and the work should finish at some point next year.

So far more than half a dozen have been erected to the north of Goring, near Withymead nature reserve and the Leatherne Bottel pub. Several more have gone up to the south of South Stoke.

Residents say they spoil the appearance of the open space between Goring and South Stoke, which is part of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Henley MP John Howell and the Chilterns Conservation Board have both written to Network Rail outlining similar concerns.

Ian Haslam, from South Stoke, invited Network Rail to the meeting at South Stoke village hall and received a reply from community relations manager Richard Turner, saying the company wasn’t expecting the wider public to be there.

Mr Turner said: “We agreed to meet with the action group in good faith and I was surprised to learn this is no longer the case. In view of this, I regret to advise that representatives will no longer be attending as it is our opinion that this particular format wouldn’t lend itself to positive and constructive dialogue. Please be assured that Network Rail is committed to meeting the action group and we would be happy to  reschedule.”

Mr Haslam, who has taken up the offer of a new date, said: “Presumably Network Rail thought the action group was quite small and they could placate us with a low-key meeting.

“They knew we’d arranged for it to be in the village hall so I’m not sure why they would expect anything other than a largish turnout. This was not intended to be a Network Rail-bashing exercise but a forum for allowing our concerns to be heard with allowance for them to state their position and give sensible responses.”

Meanwhile, Goring Parish Council has criticised Network Rail for failing to consult on the scheme.

The work is permitted development, meaning planning permission isn’t needed, but the company had said it would publicise the designs before work started in talks with councillors Kevin Bulmer and John Wills last year. Cllr Wills said: “We were assured that they understood the significance of the AONB, that mitigation works would take place and that we’d see the plans before anything went ahead.

“No further consultation took place and a lot of people are up in arms about it.”

The council passed a resolution expressing disappointment and putting Cllrs Wills and Bulmer forward to sit on the action group.

Network Rail says it cannot install anything less obstrusive, such as wire headspans, as they are older technology and not as safe or reliable.

A spokeswoman said: “In our environmental statement for electrification work in this area, we committed to consulting on mitigation measures at the detailed design stage.

“Due to the demands of working on such a complex, ever accelerating programme, this consultation was delayed. We apologise for this and are now in a position to work with the community on possible mitigation measures.

“The installation of the overhead infrastructure in this area is essential for the electrification of the railway and the arrival of a new fleet of faster, longer, quieter and greener electric trains.

“If we were to put our work on hold it would have implications for our overall work programme and our aim of enabling the public and those living near the railway to experience the benefits as soon as possible.”

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