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.