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Letter: Is This Rail Bridge Plan Leading to Even More Development in Ash & Tongham?

Published on: 17 Dec, 2020
Updated on: 17 Dec, 2020

The proposed route of the new Ash flyover or bridge. Image GBC.

From: John Ferns

In response to: Residents Still Uneasy About Ash Station £23m Rail Bridge Plan

The lack of local response on this topic is telling. Undoubtedly, there is growing disquiet. But what causes concern to residents is the perception that the bridge project is driven by the desire to cram even more development into the Ash & Tongham parishes.

Parts of the consultation presentation referred to by Cllr Rigg were “loaded”. For example, few could disagree with the statement, “The level crossing is currently congested due to the volume of traffic”.

But to another, “To what extent do you agree that this proposal will assist in improving traffic congestion in this part of Ash”, there was a wide divergence of views, predominantly negative.

And only 42 of the 108 questions tabled by residents were addressed.

A significant number felt a bridge would lead to more “out of area” drivers being drawn to the scene, adding to the existing congestion and rat-running.

Some issues include: original justification for the bridge was on the false premise that Network Rail (NR) would do two things, increase the number of trains and electrify the line.

Both pieces of information were included in the Wessex Route Study, one of the documents used as a basis for the Local Plan, where it was an “aim”, not a “promise” to deliver. This addressed the plans for CP5 which ended on March 31, 2019.

This “aim” has now, in CP6, been downgraded to, “There is an aspiration to increase the service frequency on the North Downs line from 2tph to 3tph, as well as introduce new rolling stock to service the Reading-Gatwick line”. No mention of electrification. And their aspirations may well be even harder to deliver in a post-Covid world.

The selected bridge route, one of three designed to enable any NR electrification plan, is also one of the longest and costliest of the six originally identified.

And an approach by GBC to NR prompted the latter’s support, not the other way around as is always stated. As for safety issues, NR’s prime concern was pedestrians, playing ducks and drakes around the closed barriers.

GBC has submitted a planning application only for the road bridge, when what initially is required is a DDA-compliant footbridge. The level crossing will never be closed until there is a footbridge, so why is there no planning application for a footbridge?

The selected road bridge-routing is the closest to the Grade II*-listed setting of Ash Manor, the subject of the recent successful challenge against GBC in the High Court. There must now be serious concern that GBC will not overcome the heritage issues, especially as Heritage England’s review has again been misrepresented.

The application purports to remove a congestion hotspot at the crossing. In fact, it will just move the blockages, along the Aldershot- Ash-Guildford axis and the Ash Vale-Ash-Hog’s Back axis, 200m further along the roads.

This would be exacerbated by the new traffic lights to be installed on the Ash Hill Road/Guildford Road roundabout. It will do nothing to extinguish the rat-runs that now exist, but encourage more “out of area” drivers to sample the new bridge who otherwise have avoided routes around Ash station.

Providing this “super highway” between Ash Vale through the quiet hamlet of Ash Green, up to a dangerous junction on the Hog’s Back is unnecessary, given the advent of electrically powered vehicles and the numbers of workers/employers who have found home working has its benefits.

Finally, the financial climate has hardened in the past 12 months and there are unanswered questions on the financing of the project. I believe there is need for a total reappraisal of the Ash road bridge project, not least to determine if the scheme is now affordable.

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