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Letter: The Planned Railway Bridge to Replace Ash Level Crossing Is Necessary

Published on: 30 Dec, 2020
Updated on: 30 Dec, 2020

Ash level crossing

From: John Rigg

lead councillor for Regeneration and Major Projects and R4GV borough councillor for Holy Trinity

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

The planned road bridge is the result of five years’ study, transport modelling and wide consultation with the public and various authorities. It has been consistently supported as a beneficial addition for Ash and Tongham to improve safety and reduce traffic congestion in Ash.

Currently, the level crossing in Ash is closed to cars and pedestrians for, on average, 25 minutes an hour. The road bridge will provide a new route for cars over the North Downs railway line, replacing the route over Ash level crossing. This in turn provides the space needed to build a footbridge.

The new road bridge will be safer for pedestrians and cyclists as well as cars. It will remove traffic congestion at the crossing caused by barrier downtime, particularly during peak traffic hours. This project has the support of central government, relevant authorities, councillors, MPs and Ash Parish Council. The planning application will be heard on January 6 (2021) and I would encourage residents to view the full application on the council’s website here.

The project is needed to enable housing development outlined in the Local Plan without increasing existing congestion and safety-related risks at the Ash level crossing, or over-use of surrounding roads as an alternative route.

The original justification for the bridge was not “on the false premise that Network Rail would increase the number of trains and electrify the line”. Great Western Railway has recently increased the number of trains on the line to three per hour in each direction on Saturdays and some off-peak weekday hours, with greater downtime at the crossing. My understanding is that Great Western plans extra off-peak weekday services and, in 2022/3, extra peak-hour services.

Network Rail and Surrey County Council support the new bridge to mitigate congestion and serious safety concerns at the crossing associated with increasing barrier downtime and growth in use of the crossing associated with new housing in the area.

I hope the following is helpful:

  • This planning application is for the road bridge. The footbridge is scheduled to be submitted in 2021, with those works to start following opening of the road bridge.
  • The route of the road bridge was one of several considered. The shorter route did not meet highway design standards. The longer route required more land, cost more, had greater environmental impact and was closer to Ash Manor. The selected route was considered the best for these reasons.
  • At least 491 people attended the public events in early 2019. In answer to the question “To what extent do you agree that this proposal will assist in improving traffic congestion in this part of Ash?”, of the 207 feedback forms received 134 were favourable, 35 were undecided and 38 disagreed or strongly disagreed.
  • An Environmental Statement was submitted. GBC, as planning authority, will advise on heritage matters when the application comes to committee in January 2021.
  • Traffic and transport impacts have been considered as part of the Environmental Statement submitted. Surrey County Council, the highway authority, confirms that the findings are sound.
  • The bridge is not expected to “move the blockages along the Aldershot-Ash-Guildford axis and the Ash Vale-Ash-Hog’s Back axis, 200m further along the roads”. Traffic will move more uniformly through the Ash area. The traffic modelling confirms that the changes will not have a detrimental impact on junctions such as A323 \ Pirbright Road.
  • The bridge will ease congestion on unsuitable narrow roads and sensitive routes, and delays at the Ash level crossing.
  • There is nothing to suggest “out of area” drivers would come to ‘sample the new road bridge who otherwise have avoided routes around Ash station’ and it cannot be described as a “super highway”. The road bridge is a relatively short stretch of highway. Strategic modelling completed for the Guildford Borough Local Plan shows that vehicles are unlikely to re-route from the A31 and A331 to the A323. This has been confirmed by SCC Highways in their response to the planning application.
  • The road bridge will not lead ‘up to a dangerous junction on the Hog’s Back’. The Hog’s Back is some distance from the road bridge, which connects Foreman Road and Guildford Road. Monitoring is also proposed as part of the planning application to check that the forecast outcomes are achieved.
  • Lastly, no new traffic lights are proposed on the Ash Hill Road / Guildford Road roundabout.

Modelling has shown that the upgraded roundabout will offer benefits in performance over the current configuration.

This important project for Ash has taken five years of detailed scrutiny and investigation but is based on a simple premise that road bridges over railway lines are safer, quicker and better than level crossings for road traffic, cyclists, pedestrians and train services. The need for the project has been found sound at the Local Plan examination, and two recent planning appeals have endorsed the Council approach to the Ash Road Bridge.

It is a major and important infrastructure project representing a much-needed investment in Ash. GBC has committed to its delivery if at all possible, notwithstanding the fact that SCC is the authority more appropriately responsible for such projects.

Much of the information in this letter and more is contained in the planning application for the road bridge which can be viewed on the Council’s website as referred to above.

 

Cllr John Rigg

, Guildford Borough COuncil

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test One Response to Letter: The Planned Railway Bridge to Replace Ash Level Crossing Is Necessary

  1. Margaret Ferns Reply

    January 1, 2021 at 7:17 pm

    GBC is full of Christmas surprises, and on December 21 sent notifications to councillors and some members of the public that Ash Bridge will be on the agenda of the Planning Committee on January 6.

    Is it the council’s employees (ie officers of the planning department) who set the dates which span the Christmas period?

    There are hundreds of pages of documents on this major Planning Application (19/P/01460) and GBC’s planning portal was not even up-to-date at the time of writing (6.50pm January 1) which shows no documents/letters after December 12, although we know there are some waiting to be added.

    Here a “cut-and-paste” from their website (which unfortunately did not copy well) showing the last documents added to the page on December 12.

    Extract:-

    “You can select up to 25 documents to download in one archive file at a time.

    Date Published Document Type Drawing Number Description View
    09 Dec 2020 Correspondence Network rail View document icon
    08 Dec 2020 Consultee Comment Surrey Wildlife Trust additional comments View document icon”

    There is very little time from December 21 to January 6 with Christmas intervening for councillors of the Planning Committee (especially newly elected/selected) to study the hundreds of pages already on the planning portal as well as those still waiting to be added at this late juncture. And little time for residents/members of the public, who may wish to address the Planning Committee to digest the documents (some yet to be added to GBC’s planning portal) to prepare.

    GBC may be concerned that if they can’t deliver the Road Bridge, they may not be able to deliver all the 1,700+ houses/dwellings planned for Ash South and Tongham Ward, an explosion from just 3,297 households in the 2011 census.

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