Rail link reaction
Plans to build a western railway link to Heathrow Airport have been given a guarded welcome by Buckinghamshire County Council.
The spur would not only support businesses in the county, but also provide local people living west of the junction with improved rail access to the airport, says Bill Chapple OBE, Cabinet Member for Planning and Environment.
His comments on the planned spur, which leaves the main Great Western line at Iver and dives underneath the tracks into a tunnel to the airport, come in response to a public consultation to the scheme, run by Network Rail, which closed last week (Friday 22nd June).
But while Bill says the county council welcomes the plans, he points to a lack of consideration by Network Rail over the effects the scheme could have on roads, traffic movements, and access routes across the main line, and about arrangements for construction traffic.
He says the council has severe concerns about the potential adverse effect on the Ivers communities, already facing the cumulative effects of multiple infrastructure projects, not least of which is the third airport runway, proposals for which won a Commons vote on Monday.
Paul Irwin, Deputy Transport Cabinet Member and founding Chairman of the Ivers Members Liaison Group (IMLG) representing county, parish and district councils, echoed Bill Chapple’s concerns, particularly over Network Rail’s proposal to close Hollow Hill Lane, a primary access route across the main line, into neighbouring Langley.
Here, the airport-bound railway spur would cross Hollow Hill Lane at road level before diving into a tunnel under the main line, requiring the road to be blocked off. And this, says Mr Irwin, would send almost 10,000 vehicles a day on circuitous alternative routes, putting further pressure on an already busy Iver village centre.
Mr Irwin said: ‘I’m not convinced this proposal has been fully assessed. While we support the rail project, we would like to see the scheme designed to ensure this crucial link remains open to all traffic. If this isn’t possible, Network Rail need to demonstrate to us and our residents that closure is absolutely necessary, and will need to provide a long-term alternative that works for everyone.
‘The Ivers are being hit from all sides by nationally needed construction projects. With parish and district colleagues, we’re clear a new road link is needed to ensure the local communities playing ‘host’ to these schemes are not severely impacted.
‘If keeping the existing road open isn’t possible then Network Rail should part fund the Iver Relief Road as a like-for-like replacement of the closed road. The relief road would reduce the effect that closing Hollow Hill Lane will have on residents and businesses.’
In addition to concerns about the rail link’s effect on local roads, the county council has also:
> Questioned whether Network Rail has taken account of risks from groundwater and river flooding, particularly the effect of flood alleviation on nearby Grand Union canal
> Sought assurances that Network Rail has taken account of ecological factors, such as the scheme’s effect on bats, barn owls, hedgehogs, hares and wintering birds.
> Urged Network Rail to find a suitable alternative to Footpath 15, affected by the need to demolish Dog Kennel Bridge as part of the Crossrail project, and which risks being obliterated by the Heathrow rail spur.
> Called for further talks about archaeological work that needs to be done before work can start on the rail link
The council says it will continue to work with Slough Borough, along with Iver Parish Council and South Bucks District Council, to ensure that a comprehensive mitigation and compensation package spanning the county border is put in place by Network Rail.