Saturday, 04 July 2020

£3.7m fund to mitigate ugly rail gantries

CAMPAIGNERS in the Goring area hope to claim a share of a £3.75 million fund which has been launched to offset the environmental impact of electrifying the Great Western railway line.

Network Rail installed metal gantries at regular intervals along the route, which runs between London Paddington and Oxford, in early 2015 to hold up overhead electrical cables.

The structures, which are shaped like goalposts and span the width of the track, were criticised because they gave the appearance of a silver tunnel snaking through the landscape at Goring’s southern and northern edges.

An action group of Goring and South Stoke residents eventually persuaded the company to install less obstrusive designs on the historic rail bridge at Gatehampton but was told it would be too expensive to roll them out elsewhere.

Now the company is funding a joint project by the management boards of the Chilterns and North Wessex Downs Areas of Outstand ing Natural Beauty to improve views of the area.

The initiative, called Mend the Gap, will earmark £750,000 to plant trees and shrubs along a 20km stretch of the line between Reading and Didcot.

Another £3 million will be spent on more complex “landscape enhancement projects”.

The boards have formed a project committee which includes members of the action group and will discuss how the money could be spent once the coronavirus lockdown is over. It will seek the views of landowners and community groups.

Ian Haslam, who led the campaigners, said: “We were very happy to take part in this process. It doesn’t solve the problem because those gantries are still going to be there but at least we can play our part in mitigating them.

“Network Rail has already spent a reasonable amount of money on studies showing how to offset the impact, which could help us plan the next steps.

“Thousands of photographs have been taken along this stretch which illustrate where additional planting could help.

“Some landowners may not want planting on their land but we hope they will be amenable as it will improve the environment by offsetting carbon.

“It was hoped that we’d start something by this autumn but that’s now uncertain given the circumstances.

“The ‘enhancement projects’ are more loosely defined for now but we’ve had some provisional ideas which could include signage. It’s a five-year project so there will be time to decide these things.”

Years ago, the group threatened legal action against Network Rail, claiming it was failing in its legal duty to conserve or enhance the AONB. It still believes this but accepts it would be unlikely to succeed in court.

Mr Haslam said: “We’re all working together amicably. It doesn’t feel like a victory as we’d rather see the gantries replaced or altered but we’re taking a practical attitude and working to ensure the money is spent effectively.”

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