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Letter: There Are Many Reasons to Reconsider the Plan to Build a Railway Bridge at Ash

Published on: 1 Jan, 2021
Updated on: 1 Jan, 2021

Ash level crossing

From: Sue Wyeth-Price

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

Cllr Rigg’s letter is missing any key information about funding. Currently, excluding the cost of the Compulsory Purchase Order for land, they will ultimately use for drainage, the funding gap is £8 million. The costs have risen 16% in the last year alone.

Overall, the original cost of £15 million has now risen to almost £26 million. Without the New Homes Bonus, or any reserves available, the only way to fund this is to borrow. Unless of course the “bridge tax” on any new house built in Ash is increased above the current £10,000 per house, or to cram in even more houses.

How would anyone be able to say the bridge is “constantly supported” without doing a real consultation, as opposed to the uninformative, biased presentation we were shown 18 months ago? Constantly supported by whom?

A simple review of the banners at the presentations would show the lack of supporting information available to residents. Even the support statement Homes England required for the grant (obtained through an FOI request) consisted of only three short letters on GBC headed paper and they were produced well before any public consultation. Nothing from residents at all.

Of the 491 people said to have attended the “consultations”, only 134 people stated they supported it. Anyone attending any of the Ash Forum meetings would know that the level of support was anything but constant. Even the heavily promoted petition, on GBC’s list of petitions, in support of the bridge, publicised to over 5,000 individual users on Facebook, has only managed to garner 39 signatures.

Not a single change to the application, layout, parking, footbridge, lighting, ecology, etc, has been made as a result of the “consultation”. However, despite all the residents’ questions at the consultations, very limited further information has been provided on most of the topics, indeed it has taken over two years and the threat of contempt of court by the Information Commissioners’ Office to even get part of the information on the possible alternative routes from the council.

No one was told about the alternative routes, or that, even after five years, there is still no footbridge, no indication of when it might even be designed, and no idea about funding that either.

Even the Major Projects Team have latterly accepted that the safety issue is with pedestrians not cars. Yet despite all the statements from Network Rail on the subject (none of which are available in the published responses to Local Plan Regulation 19 consultation – as suggested by the council), their contribution is for the footbridge only. If, as claimed by the council, the road bridge is to reduce the safety risk at the crossing, why are Network Rail not funding it at all?

The proposed route has been an issue since the first Ash Forum meeting, when plans were initially shown to residents, back in January 2018. The documents obtained through the FOI requests show reasons for rejecting the shortest, least harmful, and probably cheapest version was a desire to minimise “land take” on Persimmon land and the Traveller site.

Obviously issuing a CPO on a farm is somehow a “better” solution. None of this information was made public. I defy anyone who has ever tried to drive through Ash in the mornings to say that “traffic will move uniformly through Ash”. As the transport analysis doesn’t consider anything further west than the Ash Street/ Grange Road junction we have no idea what the impacts will be on traffic between there and the A331 junction.

It seems to be a perverse logic that says that a new bridge will allow traffic to move uniformly through the village, cater for some of the additional housing in the area and remove bottlenecks, while at the same time not attracting additional traffic onto an “improved” route. Even Surrey Highway’s own documents show that 4,000 additional cars per day now use the new bridge over the Thames in Walton, but somehow they don’t think that will happen here.

The AECOM authored Supporting Statement addresses how the bridge will enable better access to Aldershot and Farnborough business parks and town centres. Better access for whom? Given that most people living in Ash, Tongham or Ash Green have no need to use the crossing when travelling to either of these destinations, the only benefit would be to people outside the area, who would otherwise use the A31 or A331.

Yes, there is transport analysis in the planning application, with the new road layouts, and they don’t show traffic lights on the Dover Arms roundabout. But these signals were included in the consultation information supporting the Supplementary Planning Document for the same area, published long after the traffic analysis. This application does not dovetail with the SPD.

It’s good to see that the council is proposing monitoring conditions post-construction to see is the bridge delivers all it promises, but the application shows absolutely no information on what happens if it turns out to not deliver.

And then there is the construction. Many of the items, including the Construction Environment Management Plan, which will impact the local residents are planned to be pushed into the conditions which alter applications without consultation by agreement with the planning officer, an issue which has caused several problems on this site before.

One of these proposals is the temporary rehousing of local residents due to the noise, etc, during the construction phase. None of these residents have been officially informed of this likelihood, nor have they been informed on how they will have to request compensation through Surrey Highways for the loss in value of their homes, some of which are new builds purchased in the last two years.

My final issue with this is about the process. It is surely a less than balanced exercise to allow the council “five years of detailed scrutiny and investigation” and only give objectors the regulation six minutes to object. A much better approach would be to suspend the application, have the promised review sessions with residents, make all the FOI and restricted documents available to residents and councillors alike and confirm that the project is being proposed for the right reasons, that we can afford it and that it will deliver the benefits proposed.

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test One Response to Letter: There Are Many Reasons to Reconsider the Plan to Build a Railway Bridge at Ash

  1. John Ferns Reply

    January 1, 2021 at 2:35 pm

    Ms Wyeth-Price makes some very cogent arguments as to why there should be a pause for thought. Not least on financial grounds.

    We are constantly told that “financial considerations” are not part of the planning process and normally they don’t come into the equation as it is the developer that shoulders any risk. But in this case, the developer is GBC and it is the public purse that is at stake. A decision of this magnitude must merit the greatest scrutiny by our elected representatives, especially in these financially straitened times.

    I have seen the financial papers and there is indeed a funding gap. The £2.5m contribution by Network Rail was specifically earmarked for the Foot Bridge, but GBC has chosen instead to include it in their financial plan for the road bridge construction. GBC will not receive any Network Rail monies unless and until the footbridge is delivered.

    In his response to my recent letter, Cllr Rigg set about justifying the proposed route and concluded by saying “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.” There is something very Alice in Wonderland about that statement. Cllr Rigg has advanced some valid reasons to justify refusal by the Planning Committee at their meeting on January 6.

    A sensible solution would be to withdraw this application from the next Wednesday’s planning agenda. There is an Executive meeting timetabled for February 16 which is the proper forum for this major decision at which one of the items on that agenda is to agree:
    • funding for the project
    • procurement of contractor and consultant fees.

    Only when the financial viability has been assessed, can a legitimate case be made for the furtherance of the Ash Bridge project.

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