Angry resident claims objectors silenced in rush to deliver £18m rail station
- Credit: John Elworthy
It took just 57 days for the £18m rail station for Soham to be ‘approved’ by East Cambridgeshire District Council.
Not that permission was even required since Network Rail relies on the Ely and Newmarket Railway Act of 1875 that allowed the first station.
East Cambs planning officer Barbara Greengrass confirmed “there was no requirement” to advertise the application.
She felt the “consultation which has been undertaken” goes beyond that which is statutorily required.
“Some consultations have been received without being sought,” she noted and then listed 27 objections, all duly dismissed.
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Those ranged from flood risk, loss of trees, loss of wildlife, access through Clay Street, threats to older properties, land ownership, inaccurate and scaled down reports and noise.
Included were those from Donna Martin, a local resident, long term advocate of the rail station re-opening, but whose 17th century cottage adjoins the development.
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And is now threatened by noise, disturbance, structural threats to her home, and flooding.
Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CAPCA), who bankrolled the scheme, and Network Rail insists “there is a monitoring system in place to check for noise levels and vibration levels” .
And they told me: “We have gone further by conducting an internal condition survey of the two properties closest to the site.
“That includes the neighbour you interviewed so that we can later process any claims through a suitably qualified loss adjuster once the station has been constructed.”
Mrs Martin is unimpressed.
“The entire 'planning' process happened during Covid which we believe was used to full advantage,” she said.
“No one knew about this. The 'plans' were never accurate, and the artists impressions are a joke.”
She says she has always supported re-opening of the rail station but is also adamant that other sites should have been considered.
“This was put in front of me 20 years ago when I was chair of the Soham Town Forum,” she said.
“This has been a long game and there must have been some weight behind it to get all the ducks in a row.”
Mrs Martin says she documented her concerns as recently as two weeks ago in an email to CAPCA.
“They are fully aware that we share a boundary with the construction site and that we have been completely and deliberately ignored,” she said.
“Our list of concerns remains a long one. We urgently need the project lead to engage in discussions to mitigate boundary concerns between our property and the proposed site of the station car park.
“We are also concerned about the type and quality of fencing, replanting, access, privacy, and mitigation of future intrusions, as well as responsibility for damages.”
She wants a site meeting “to run through everything” to enable the combined authority to “get some context of what we are enduring and expect to endure in the future”.
She told CAPCA: “If you are genuinely concerned, I would expect you to arrange the same with some urgency.
“It is general ignorance, failure to acknowledge our existence and the lack of site visits, meetings, damage caused to our property and basic understanding of our civil and human rights that has led to us initiating further action.”
Stephen Deaville, senior communications manager of Network Rail who responded on their behalf and that of CAPCA, says the station “is widely supported across the community.
“We are excited to see the day later this year, when trains start to call at Soham for the first time since the mid-1960s.”
He said two weeks ago the site team were able to install the main structure of the platform “which is a significant milestone”.
He said: “In general the number of complaints received by Network Rail from individual properties around the station has been very low.
“That is despite building the new station next to a number of residential properties including a care home that is visited regularly by the construction team as part of their duties to keep the local community engaged.”
He refuted suggestions there had been no contact with the individuals closest to the worksite.
“The combined authority, and Network Rail have had extensive correspondence with the nearest neighbours.
“This has been about a wide range of matters from construction impacts, planning, access, drainage, noise, vibration and wildlife to name but a few.”
Mr Deaville said there have also been several meetings on site with the neighbours, and correspondence with the MP, Lucy Frazer including a virtual call in June 2020, which was attended all parties.
“Over the course of over two years, Network Rail has responded to all complaints received without exception,” he said.
The contractor building the station J Murphy and Sons Ltd, “continues to update the neighbours on all planned construction activity”.
They were sending letters, knocking on doors and in the case of Mrs Martin several contacts with her “whenever there is an issue with the construction impact which has been used many times”.
He added: “In summary, the combined authority, Network Rail and their contractor have, and will continue to respond to any and all concerns raised from our station neighbours.
“We will continue to seek to minimise the construction impact where it is reasonably practicable to do so.”
Mrs Martin said the community was being forced to put up with disruption and extended working hours through to September.
“Everything has been about broken promises,” she said. “Look for instance at the aerial view taken this year by Jonathan James and then look at the same view from Google.
“Where have all the trees gone? It is total devastation, and we are in shock.
“The awful truth is that all the trees to the west of the railway that were supposed to be kept were removed progressively overnight so no one could intervene.”
She said trees started to be removed last September “and they haven’t stopped work since.”
Mrs Martin said no regard had been given to the “100s of trees that have removed, and they have totally ignored the fact this area was rich in wildlife. All gone.”
Residents had alerted Network Rail and others to the loss of six species of birds nesting locally there were on the RPSB ‘red’ list and that was without other wildlife threatened. [She said the area had a lizard colony, great crested newts, bats, owls, badgers and all now disappearing.]
She said that East Cambridgeshire District Council, and the Cambridgeshire Wildlife trust were all alerted to the fact “that this was a very special area for wildlife but were either not prepared to do anything to mitigate the loss of habitat, or were prevented from doing so.
“We have lost a very special wildlife habitat.
“We had great crested newts, grass snakes, a lizard colony, bats, owls and a badger set.
Over 25 years we listed over 60 species of bird visiting our garden.
“This whole thing is a tragedy for our local wildlife.”
Mrs Martin fears Network Rail are stepping back from their initial commitment to re-plant over 80 trees.
“This has been a complete nightmare,” she said.
“I have nowhere to go, no one to speak to, no kind of mitigation or security.
Soham railway station was opened on the September 1, 1879, on the Ely to Newmarket Line. The station was destroyed on June 2, 1944, when a munitions train caught fire and exploded.
Although the line remains the station was closed down on September 13, 1965.
Soham resident and former Mayor James Palmer made re-opening the station a key platform of his four-year term.
“The combined authority will deliver on this long-held aspiration in Soham and I will be working to ensure our ambitious timetable for completion does not slip,” he vowed.
“This station is exactly the sort of scheme the combined authority was set up to deliver.”