Saturday, 20 July 2019

Campaigners lose fight to replace ugly rail gantries

Campaigners lose fight to replace ugly rail gantries

METAL gantries along the railway through Goring will not be replaced despite campaigners insisting that they are ugly.

Network Rail, which erected the grey steel structures in early 2015 as part of the electrification of the Great Western main line, says it is highly doubtful that the Government would pay for less obtrusive designs to replace them.

It also said the gantries were the best from an engineering perspective and even if it had agreed to replace them, there would be no one at the company to oversee the work as the project team was about to be disbanded.

Instead, the company has agreed to give £3.75 million to the conservation boards of the Chilterns and North Wessex Downs areas of outstanding natural beauty, through which the line runs, to reduce the impact on views of the surrounding countryside.

Most of the money is earmarked for “landscape enhancement projects” to improve the wider area while £750,000 will go towards planting and other screening along the railway line.

Network Rail didn’t need planning permission for the gantries because major infrastructure projects are covered by “permitted development” rules but the company was criticised for failing to conduct a public consultation.

Opponents argued it had breached a law which states that work in an AONB should at least conserve and ideally enhance it.

They said the gantries, which stand about 100m apart, gave the impression of a “tunnel” winding across the open landscape to the north and south of Goring.

Network Rail apologised for failing to consult and formed a design group with the conservation boards to look at mitigation measures.

It commissioned a report from engineering firm Balfour Beatty which concluded there had been a substantial impact on the Ridgeway north of Goring and the footpath at Gatehampton and Hartslock Wood, near Whitchurch.

The firm said slimmer or shorter designs could be installed or the existing ones could be painted in more natural colours.

Network Rail installed less obtrusive gantries at Moulsford and Gatehampton railway bridges, which are listed, but said rolling them out along the rest of the track would need government funding.

This is unlikely to materialise as the Department for Transport is now only funding non-essential works on a discretionary basis and is prioritising schemes proposed from this month onwards.

Network Rail said its offer of money for remedial work might not be available in future so the two conservation boards accepted.

The company insists that it has now fulfilled its legal duties towards the AONBs and need not take any further action.

Ian Haslam, of the Goring Gap Railway Action Group, said: “It seems unlikely through this course of action that they have fulfilled their requirements to consult properly at the start and throughout the project.

“However, it would seem a waste of everyone’s time to force them to hold public consultations on the results of the Balfour Beatty work when they have no intention to act on them.

“It is not clear whether, by this agreement, they have fulfilled their statutory planning duties but it would require a legal challenge to find out and we have consulted our barrister in this regard.

“The Chilterns Conservation Board recognises that we’ve been instrumental in challenging Network Rail on its dereliction of duty and has offered us a place on the steering group for the planting and screening work.

“However, this does not take away the sense of disappointment about the outcome and the feeling of being misled.

“On the positive side, as a result of our actions, Network Rail made changes to the infrastructure in the Cotswolds AONB and it is highly likely that they will take a much more sympathetic approach to AONBs in the future.

“We’re thankful for everyone’s support and sorry that it has had such an unsatisfactory outcome.”

The Chilterns Conservation Board says there will be opportunities for residents to take part in developing the mitigation works. More information on this will be published at www.chilternsaonb.org

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