Monday, 30 November 2020

Network Rail apologises for no consultation on gantries

NETWORK Rail has apologised for not consulting residents before it installed “intrusive” steel gantries along the line through Goring.

NETWORK Rail has apologised for not consulting residents before it installed “intrusive” steel gantries along the line through Goring.

Following a meeting with objectors at the village hall last week, the company has admitted it should have sought people’s views before the work started a year ago.

Now it has repeated its promise of a retrospective consultation and says it has begun drawing up alternative designs that could replace them.

However, the blueprints are unlikely to be ready for several months and, in the meantime, gantries in the existing style will continue to be installed.

The unpainted grey structures, which span the width of the track at regular intervals, will hold power cables as part of the electrification of the Great Western main line.

The same design is used along its entire length from London Paddington to Oxford, which stops at Goring and Streatley station and passes through the surrounding countryside.

Objectors say the gantries are visually intrusive and spoil the appearance of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, creating a “tunnel” effect with an urban appearance.

This view is shared by Goring and South Stoke parish councils as well as the Chilterns Conservation Board and the North Wessex Downs AONB’s management board.

Although planning permission wasn’t required as it is “permitted development”, opponents believe the gantries are unlawful as work in an AONB must protect or enhance its appearance.

Network Rail was expected to present alternative designs at last week’s meeting but said these would not be ready for another three months in order to ensure the best possible  results.

It intends to carry out a visual impact assessment, a formal process in which independent experts will gauge the effect that various designs could have on the landscape.

Ian Haslam, of Goring and South Stoke Railway Action Group, which includes representatives from Goring Parish Council, said: “Network Rail say they want to build a new approach from the bottom up, which is a positive step and something we welcome.

“We’d rather they do it properly because it would be terrible if the gantries were left as they are or simply painted green. We’d have to live with that for decades to come.

“In a few months’ time  Network Rail will show us some possible designs and hopefully we’ll be able to agree on some that will go to public consultation.

“There will be meetings, a leaflet drop and a dedicated website so everybody should get the chance to have their say. It’s definitely heading in the right direction.”

Network Rail maintains the current gantries might have to stay if replacing them turns out to be too expensive. Because of this, the action group is still in talks with solicitors about mounting a legal challenge.

Mr Haslam said: “We’ve asked how much the new gantries would cost but Network Rail says it can’t give an answer without the new designs.

“We don’t believe they’ve fulfilled their legal duties but they have an obligation to put it right so we won’t stop pursuing legal action without a firmer guarantee.

“We’re keeping our options open because they could just consult as a ‘tick-box exercise’ then say ‘sorry, it’s too expensive’.

“Nonetheless, our meeting was very constructive. They seem to have realised they made a mistake and are genuinely keen to rectify it.”

A Chilterns Conservation Board spokeswoman said: “We intend to keep pressure on Network Rail and hold them to their promise.

“The meeting was positive but they have not given a final commitment to replacing the gantries so we cannot relax yet.”

Network Rail said developing new designs was a “complex process” that involved “balancing the need for the designs to be less visually intrusive with requirements around safety, reliability and operational efficiency.”

A spokeswoman said: “We apologise to residents for not carrying out the public consultation before the installation of the existing overhead line equipment.

“We are committed to working with them and other stakeholders on alternative designs.”

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