Unlawful: CCC agrees trainwash requires prior approval

In an email to residents, Stephen Kelly, Joint Director of Planning and Economic Development, confirmed on Monday 6 July that the Great Eastern Street train wash require prior approval of the Cambridge City Council. Mr Kelly wrote:

The Council have now had a response from Network Rail and have had an opportunity to consider that response further. I have accordingly emailed Network Rail today to advise them that in the opinion of the LPA, the works to construct the train wash building require the Prior Approval of the LPA by virtue of Class A of Part 18 of Schedule 2 of the Town and Country Planning General Permitted Development Order.

Network Rail, GTR, Greater Anglia, and their contractor Spencer Group appear to have overreached their authority.

It is especially urgent that we received this confirmation of our position yesterday because the companies plan to start enabling works this weekend on July 11. While a leaflet was sent to residents indicating that some foundational works were to begin, noting noise in the evenings, we have now heard that this work will involve ‘Piling’. “Piling is a type of deep foundation, used to transfer the load to a deeper level than is possible with a traditional shallow foundation. Vertical columns of concrete, steel or wood, or a combination, are driven deep into the ground to give extra support.”

NetworkRail, GTR, Greater Anglia, and Spencer Group have not provided any evaluation of the effect of piling on foundations in Great Eastern Street. Foundation damage is possible unless a detailed and in depth structural analysis has been done on the surrounding area.

We urge Network Rail, GTR, Greater Anglia, and Spencer group to act like the good neighbours they claim to be and agree to pause this work at least until such time as the lawfulness of this development is established.

If the companies will themselves step up, we urge the Cambridge City Council to enforce a pause on this work at least until such time as the lawfulness of this development is established.

Was community consultation just for show? Train wash site preparation may have begun without permission

It is June 2020 and amidst the pandemic it looks like full steam ahead (!) for GTR, Network Rail, and Greater Anglia to develop their train wash facility – despite the Cambridge City Council (CCC) having told residents on May 22nd that they are still seeking advice on the lawfulness of the development.

In response to two letters from our legal team (most recently on May 6), Stephen Kelly has indicated that Network Rail is dragging its feet in responding to CCC. On May 22 Kelly wrote:

Following the Councils own advice, I wrote earlier this month to Network Rail seeking clarification on a number of specific matters to assist the Planning Authority in determining the matter of lawfulness and have not yet received a response. I have accordingly written again today to try and determine when I might receive a response from them.

GTR’s website proposes that work on the train wash was to begin in Spring 2020. We are now just days away from the official start of Summer 2020 (June 20), and residents have noted increased activity on both sides of the Mill Road Bridge (see gallery below). Construction noise has been on the rise and much discussed amongst GES residents – as we have been getting our daily exercise during the lock-down, its becoming harder to avoid the work.

Daniel Zeichner, member for Cambridge, CCC Romsey Counsellors, and residents are adamant that work must not begin before a determination of the lawfulness of the development.

Network Rail should be held to a date to respond to the CCC so that the next steps in a transparent planning process can begin,

GTR and Greater Anglia (as the developers and operators), and Spencer Group (as the construction contractors), should live up to their promise to be “good neighbours” and pause work until Network Rail goes seeks a Certificate of Lawful Development. Without it, they risk developing a facility that will be deemed unlawful and subject to legal action.

Summary and thoughts from the online public GTR meeting from 13th May

Wednesday 13th May GTR organised an online ‘public’ meeting to update on the situation with the train wash and more generally the Cambridge siding upgrade.

The first positive aspect was that there was a broader panel of people in comparison to the previous meetings, in particular for the first time a representative of Network Rail which raised hope that we may have some answers to our questions regarding the planning permission that has been repeatedly raised (spoiler alert, we didn’t).

At the beginning of the meeting we agreed to let the presenter go through their presentation without interruption with questions to be answered at the end. Our resident representative had intervened at the beginning to make clear the questions that we wanted to see answered:  the legality of the lack of planning permission for the train wash, the choice of the location, and the other options explored. At this stage Network Rail acknowledged that they were working at providing answers to Cambridge City Council regarding the lack of planning permission as a direct consequence of our legal action.

The presentation was mostly a presentation of:

  • the impact of COVID-19 on the workers way of working
  • the advancement of the siding work on the south side of the bridge
  • additional modelling and alternative design of the train wash for the sound, vibration, shadow impact and light pollution in response to some of the questions from previous meetings
  • Network Rail discussed the situation of Cambridge North site, the other locations options they considered after the sale of Cambridge north site (0), repeated that they believe they don’t need planning permission but that they are now in discussions with Cambridge City Council to try and prove that it is a lawful development following the communication sent by our lawyer.
  • Details on the train wash machinery and the expected number of trains entering and leaving the depot, as well as the number of trains going through the wash.

In summary, not much new information in comparison to the last 2 meetings and the same repeated information with just a tiny bit more detail and the delay caused by COVID19.

Most of the questions asked by residents were regarding the planning permission and the lack of transparency. One of the questions asked that left all the members unable to answer was how many locations were put into consideration and put forward to a committee before deciding. It became clearer that the Cambridge North option was ruled out as early as 2016 as this land was sold off, and that the Romsey location for the train wash was set by GTR/Network Rail side at this time. That means that for more than 3 years GTR/NR was fully aware of their project, yet no consultation or clear description of what was to be built in the depot was provided to the community or council. In particular on the planning permission GTR/NR applied for when they performed the bridge work during the summer 2019, they had already all relevant information and clearly misrepresented that on their application. We have been emphasizing this lack of transparency for almost the entire time we were invited to discuss with GTR. The fact is it is not just a Romsey train wash problem, it seems that this lack of transparency has been repeated several times with the same pattern: GTR/NR are using their privileged position to perform work with as little transparency as possible and push forward their plan and deciding on their own that they can use the permitted development scheme (railway act etc). When neighbours start to realise what is happening, and the impact on their community, they are being told that there is no alternative and the decision has already been made. This needs to change.

We then focussed on the permitted development topic which has been a consistent question from the residents since January and we still don’t have a clear answer. When we asked on which basis Network Rail had decided that it was a permitted development, especially when it involves new parking and new access road, NR couldn’t give an answer and mentioned that they cannot submit a planning permission for every work they do… Well, welcome to everybody else’s world where if you want to build such a gigantic structure in the middle of a residential area, or even just a bike shed, you have to apply and consult with others.

We were a bit surprised that the work is carrying on. GTR mentioned that the train wash work has not started yet as it is just a small part of the depot with the siding works being more important and planned to be delivered by end of June. This is emphasizing the size of the project and that it is more than just Great Eastern Street residents that will be affected by this depot. There will be considerable traffic of workers, cars and trains throughout the night. Residents along the railway from Rustat Road up to Cromwell Road will be affected. Greater Anglia were a bit clearer with the number of trains being washed; they are expecting around 25 trains being washed at night and double that for the traffic in and outside the depot. That will mean constant motor noise throughout the night of trains lining up and idling along the railway. So far the modelling they presented us is referring to only the train wash structure but the real discomfort may come from the constant motor noise of trains.  We are already experiencing this sporadically and this will become more constant and way above the 40dB level they are promising us.

One surprising part of the presentation was that GTR thinks the Ironworks buildings will provide more shade onto our properties than the train wash. This seems like a bold statement and we wonder how much contact they had with our new potential neighbours about this?

As residents we had decided that we wanted to use this meeting to focus on the legal aspects of planning and to get answers to our previous questions, so all the focus was clearly on this. That doesn’t mean there was nothing to say about the other parts of their presentation. At the end the feeling is there is still some effort to do in term of transparency and taking the resident concern from GTR side. An attendee from the media at the end who managed to ask outright if the Cambridge city council had agreed on GTR’s plan there seemed to be a bit of confusion as some of the presenters had contradicted each other.

GTR’s disappointing response to Daniel Zeichner MP

On March 26th, Daniel Zeichner, MP for Cambridge, sent a letter to GTR urging them and their partners to enter into a full planning process.

On May 4th, Steve Lammin from GTR responded to Daniel Zeicher (see link for PDF).

Lammin re-iterates that GTR is managing the development and not responsible for the planning permission. But given the very uncertain legal status of this lack of planning process, we are surprised that GTR and its partners are willing to risk continuing.

Lamming claims that “We are committed to being a good neighbour, and want to ensure that the depot upgrade will have as little impact on the local community as possible. This includes addressing the residents’ concerns and sharing information whenever we can.” The evidence for this is two meetings in 2019 and 2020, despite the note that this was supposedly all a done deal in 2018, and work must have started earlier. Is two brief meetings (and now one online) and a few one page newsletters starting at at least a year afterwards is “being a good neighbour?”

GTR meeting on May 13

The next GTR hosted meeting is May 13 at 18:30 via Microsoft Teams

If you already have the link from last week, it should work this week. If not, write to us at for the link.

We will be pursuing the following issues:

  1. Why work is continuing on the project despite its uncertain legal status
  2. GTR’s decision-making process, timing, and choice of location
  3. Questions outstanding from the last meeting and FAQ

GTR has provided an agenda and a presentation:Cambridge sidings upgrade meeting Online May 2020

  • 18:30 – Welcome
  • 18:35 – Presentation
  • Steve Lammin – GTR​
  • · Our response to Covid-19​
  • · Work on site​
  • · Noise and vibration​
  • · Shade and lighting​
  • · Enclosure​
  • ​Laura Kopelciw – Network Rail​
  • · Project timeline​
  • · Planning​
  • Iain Warner – Greater Anglia​
  • · Operations of sidings and wash​
  • · Train movements
  • 19:00 – Discussion
  • 20:00 – Close

Legal action

Update – June 24th

On June 22 we blogged that the trainwash site preparation may have begun without permission. Today residents received a letter that provides more evidence that this is the case. The letter indicates that work to be done from now will include:

“Installation of New Overhead Wires including Foundations and Steel Structures
Ground work in the central area and starting to upgrade the North sidings”

The Cambridge City Council’s Joint Director of Planning and Economic Development, Stephen Kelly, has indicated that Network Rail is dragging its feet in responding to CCC. On May 22 Mr Kelly told us that “Following the Councils own advice, I wrote earlier this month to Network Rail seeking clarification on a number of specific matters to assist the Planning Authority in determining the matter of lawfulness and have not yet received a response. I have accordingly written again today to try and determine when I might receive a response from them.”

This is unacceptable. We call on GTR, Network Rail, Greater Anglia, and Spencer Group to pause development until they have been through a planning process.

And for the first time we are publishing the legal advice in full that we sent to the CCC, which indicates “that the carriage-wash does require planning permission and that
it is not permitted development under the GPDO. In any event, even if it is concluded that it is permitted development, prior approval is required.”

Carriagewash Opinion A Parkinson 6 May 2020


Update – May 11th

GTR’s proposed presentation for May 13 (Cambridge sidings upgrade meeting Online May 2020) continues to state that “Network Rail and GTR are clear that the works are permitted development under Section 16 of the Railway Causes Consolidation Act 1845. It is therefore considered that a Certificate of Lawful
Development is not required.”

However, they have addressed neither of the arguments about the definition of an industrial process or building, both of which would require a more involved planning process. Given this uncertain legal status, we believe that Spencer Group, as a responsible contractor, and GTR, as the developer, should pause development and apply for a Certificate of Lawful Development so that the community can have the issues of injury to amenity properly explored.

Update – May 6th

This morning our legal team sent an updated and expanded letter about our legal position to the Cambridge City Council. The reason for the expansion is to provide the CCC with as full a position in law as we can while they are briefing their own legal team. This expensive private process, of course, in lieu of the genuine pub;ic consultation process that this whole development should have gone through in the first place.

We await the CCC’s response.

We note with interest that the very morning we sent our second letter, GTR coincidentally postponed its community meeting.

Original – April 24

On 17 April 2020 our legal team wrote to the Cambridge City Council outlining the position of the community. This letter ratified and expanded on our belief that the law should require Network Rail (and its partners GTR and Greater Anglia) to put the trainwash application through a planning process, due to the definitions of “industrial process” and “building”.

The Cambridge City Council sent its response on 24 April 2020. While the CCC is being cautious, that the CCC is currently seeking further legal advice is a win for the community. It indicates at the very least that the position Network Rail, GTR, and Greater Anglia is not as cut and dried as they have claimed.

Our goal is to see the trainwash development undergo a full and transparent planning process to assess its impact on the amenity of the community. Every community should have the right to transparent planning. Network Rail, GTR, and Greater Anglia should have actively sought this at least in 2018 when they were applying for permission to alter the Mill Road Bridge. However, the issue of planning goes further back to when the Cambridge North station was being developed. We are currently looking into this. In the meantime, we will be continuing with further legal action.