READER LETTER: ‘None of the supporting documentation for Soham rail station appears to be based on truth’

The future vision of Soham rail station compared to what it used to be like. Picture: ARCHANT

The future vision of Soham rail station compared to what it used to be like. Picture: ARCHANT - Credit: Archant

None of the supporting documentation for Soham rail station (20/00561/P18 planning reference) appears to be based on truth.

Soham residents have not been consulted as is their right. I would appreciate you publish the following urgently:

As a major re-development project, we believe plans for the ‘re-opening’ of Soham station have deliberately been submitted during lock down to prevent access and wider discussion with the local community.

In the current ‘permitted development’ format this is a breach of our rights, and East Cambridgeshire District Council appear to have put themselves at odds with their own statement of community Involvement, which promises that they will properly consult on all major development plans.

In addition, plans for a related residential development to the west of Mereside are to be considered piecemeal and are also likely to fall under the planning radar to prevent objections.

It should be highlighted that plans for a partial development on the same site, passed by ECDC Planning last summer, raised a very negative local response. Considered as a whole, the proposed plans for the major redevelopment of this area, if carried out, will significantly negatively impact on hundreds of residents.

They will require the redirecting of traffic; one-way systems through the town, increasing journey times and town centre traffic through narrow streets, and cause parking congestion in already congested roads. Associated plans/screening matrices can be found on the East Cambridgeshire District Council Planning Portal under both Soham Station and 1-25 Mereside.

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According to ECDC planning, the application for the ‘re-opening’ of Soham Station is pending consideration as a ‘prior application – under permitted development rights’ when, in fact, none of the planning acts intended to support this action are currently valid.

The plan has been led by Mayor James Palmer, as a personal project, who it is alleged pledged £18 million of Cambridge and Peterborough Combined Authority funding to independent administrators. This will be to oversee site works which will include the proposed station and an associated housing development on land adjacent to the proposed railway station (west of Mereside), which is an environmentally sensitive vibrant wetland wildlife habitat hosting a number of rare, protected and endangered species.

It also forms a natural drainage basin for the built environment to the west of central Soham. Surveyors visiting the site on behalf of GL Hearn, during flooding, early this spring laughed hysterically when they were told the land had been outlined for residential development.

Yet the proposals are being pushed through regardless of the fact that local residents have been raising concerns about the flood risk here for years. Since December 2019, residents have been in constant correspondence with MP Lucy Frazer who has kindly got involved in trying to solve serious local flooding issues.

Yet if one reads the documentation in support of the station planning proposals ‘development and flood risk’ it appears that Network Rail don’t believe there is any flood risk here.

The concerns of residents living within feet of the proposed boundary and up to 15ft below the railway bed have been completely ignored by both developers and local authorities.

Moreover, the rights of Soham residents to comment on and get involved with what are proposals to impose the major redevelopment of a highly controversial area have been wilfully denied. We have a right to be heard!

As residents, we are not opposed to the re-opening of Soham Station, rather the siting of the platform, car park, and proposed new maintenance yard, which will significantly negatively impact on our amenity and enjoyment.

It will also ruin the setting of the conservation area in which we live, as it requires the removal of more than 40 mature trees, which form the only stand of woodland in the locality and play host to a rich and varied wildlife habitat. This feeds into the local county wildlife site.

Cambridgeshire Wildlife Trust have stated that they require a complete wildlife survey to be undertaken at the correct time of year to assess the level of present protected species. It appears that it is neither Network Rail’s intention to comply with, nor ECDC planning’s desire to enforce the wildlife and countryside actto this end.

In ignoring the significance of this, East Cambridgeshire District Council are in contravention of their own Environmental Policy. The trees take up much ground water and provide stability to the made-up ground on which the railway bed is situated, preventing it from collapse. Their removal will destabilise the ground.

We ask that Soham residents come and explore the area proposed for development and submit their own comments via the ECDC planning portal.

It would be possible to make the station happen if plans were revised, but current plans are inadequate, damaging, and will destroy important wildlife habit, increase flood risk, and basically make the lives of anyone living locally a nightmare.

I am writing on behalf of residents and therefore openly invite any local parish, district or county councillor who has a conscience, to contact with me and to arrange a socially distance site tour.