It now seems unlikely that the new station at Chesterton can be delivered by May 2016. Of course, this delay isn’t all bad news, as it should offer opportunities to re-consider some issues. I don’t pretend to understand all the issues (and I don’t know anyone who does) but some explanation may help.
It now appears that Network Rail intends to re-submit its planning application for the railway station in May, this time to South Cambridgeshire District Council. I had thought that given this was Network Rail land it would be ‘permitted’ work, as was the island platform at the main station, but this seems not to be so – planning permission was required as the land had never before been used as a station.
Permission had been granted to the county council, but Network Rail is required to apply for its own permission owing to a change in funding. With a lot of work behind the scenes, it also seems issues about Cowley Road and the parallel, disused Network Rail access road can be solved. The previous application had ‘conditions’ about the improvement of cycling and foot access. It was necessitated by the need to spend a time-limited Department for Transport (DfT) grant by April 2015. DfT has now agreed to that spend being delayed. Access to the Network Rail road is complicated by other developments in the area. These include the moving of the aggregates terminal, with consequent re-arrangement of the sidings, for which a county council ‘minerals’ planning approval is required, and subsequent development of the released land (the CB4 development).
So what new opportunities does this delay offer?
Clearly, the resolution to use the Network Rail road is crucial, and new plans for this and Cowley Road must be a condition of any new planning permission. It might even give an opportunity for the Abbey-Chesterton cycle and footbridge to open at the same time as the station. Without this bridge many may start to drive to the new station, when with the bridge it would be a short cycle ride or even a walk. It gives a better chance that the implications of the Eastern Area Action Plan will lead to a more integrated plan.
We also have another chance to secure, at the least, passive provision for a separate ‘ungated’ footbridge and eastern entrance to the station. The Fen Road crossing is a clear danger, especially for vulnerable road users, as there is no footway. A second bridge over the railway at the station, but without access to the platforms, would give more direct and safer access to schools, shops and employment from Fen Road. It may not be possible to combine this with the currently proposed platform access bridge, but just providing foundations in the proposed platforms would cost little extra when all the required plant is on-site, and would vastly reduce the cost of placing a steel structure there at a later date.
At the North Area Committee meeting in February, where Network Rail gave a very brief presentation, locals expressed concern about overflow car parking, with one person saying that 6,000 spaces would be needed. I think such fears, although clearly exaggerated, are real. I don’t think this will be a major P&R railhead, and we may even find that more people arrive by train, to proceed to their place of work by foot or bike, than depart by train each morning. Such action could even reduce private car traffic in the A14/Milton Road area!
It is a little depressing that this new station is yet again delayed, but we must grasp the opportunities the delay now offers. We may all feel we are being held to ransom in this area, but does anyone understand who is being held to ransom and by whom?