East West Rail Consultation 2021 – Our Response

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London Road level crossing in Bicester

To read the document that Langford Village Community Association has submitted to the East West Rail Consultation please click here. We are making the case for the London Road route to remain open to vehicles as well as pedestrians and cyclists. Our residents have indicated they most prefer a new road bridge being built alongside the existing road, for use when the level crossing is permanently closed because of increased rail services.

London Road crossing – the Technical Report

What’s involved in building a new road layout?

The East West Rail Company has already looked in some detail at the challenges of providing an alternative route for vehicles when, as seems likely, the London Road level crossing is closed because of safety linked to the new rail services to Milton Keynes and Cambridge.

We’ve extracted the pages of information from the Consultation Technical Report so that the details are easy to find. The pages can be viewed if you click here.

You can submit your thoughts to the Consultation here. Closing date is June 9th 2021.

London Road crossing – the EWR options

View the alternatives for the probable permanent closure of the level crossing.

London Road level crossing in Bicester

The East West Rail project has published details of 6 options that it is considering for the resolution of the issues at London Road level crossing in Bicester. Each option involves closing the existing level crossing because it says there are safety concerns linked to the crossing being closed for up to 50 minutes in each hour when the new rail services begin (probably in 2025).

Click here to read about the proposals in the extracted pages from the EWR’s full consultation document that was issued on 31st March 2021.

To go on to read more in-depth technical assessments of each proposal click here.

EWR is open to receive residents’ feedback on the proposals in a consultation period that ends on 9th June 2021. Click here to go to the consultation pages.

Go here to complete the EWR consultation feedback form and submit it.

New homes development on Gavray Drive – LVCA response

The LVCA has recently responded to the latest proposals to build over 200 new homes on Gavray Drive. Work is expected to take place from 2023 and will take several years to complete. To read the full LVCA response document to Cherwell District Council planners please click here.

‘Oxfordshire Plan 2050’ – time running out…

Time is running out to respond to the “Oxfordshire Plan 2050”. The plan is devised by the Oxfordshire Growth Board and represents the next stage of further extensive housing development beyond 2030. By 2031, more than 4000 houses are already in the pipeline for the area of Bicester south of the railway, surrounding Langford and Ambrosden. But by 2050 government wants up to 300,000 new homes in Oxfordshire.

The deadline for response is 25 March 2019 i.e next Monday.

The timing of this announcement is similar to the National Infrastructure Commission report ‘Partnering for Prosperity’ which was published just 3 days before the Budget on 22 November 2017. That budget effectively agreed the report without any consultation and set in motion plans for 1 million new houses in the Cambridge – Milton Keynes – Oxford Arc by 2050.

With government and media currently pre-occupied with other matters, this consultation risks slipping under the radar. The seemingly relentless drive for growth at any cost – 1 million new houses, 300,000 in Oxfordshire – would more than double the population of Oxfordshire in the space of 30 years and could be a castrophe. It is the justification for a new Motorway.

On budget day, the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government published a policy paper on the Arc, outlining the ‘government ambition and joint declaration between government and local partners’.

See link below:
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-oxford-cambridge-arc-government-ambition-and-joint-declaration-between-government-and-local-partners

If you feel such growth is unsustainable, would like to respond to the consultation but are not sure what to say, you may wish to review the following link…

Councillors push for level crossing funding

The East West Rail scheme should be good news for Bicester overall. However, as residents will be aware, Network Rail have ignored the London Road level crossing in all of their consultations for Phase 2 of the scheme (EWR2). Officially the position of Network Rail and local councillors is that there are no plans to close the crossing. 

When the line through to Bletchley, Milton Keynes and Bedford reopens from 2023 it will result in at least 3x as many trains running (with the prospect of more to come in future).

Whether or not the road is actually closed, when the crossing is closed for 45 minutes in an hour (as seems likely) the net effect will be similiar. EWR2 significantly impacts on the level crossing, increasing congestion and effectively cutting off Langford Village from the town centre.

We have made it clear that simply closing the crossing (as many residents fear), or doing nothing is not an option. We and many others have been pushing for clarity on the issue. A solution is needed that will allow an accessible route into town to be maintained whilst removing the conflict between road and rail at the level crossing. 

The LVCA is objecting to the EWR2 scheme not just because of the lack of a solution at London Road but also due to the lack of electrification. 

Network Rail say in their statement of case to the forthcoming Public Inquiry that “the extended closure times are comparable to other busy level crossings around the UK which are considered to operate safely”. Some improvements to signalling are planned to be implemented as part of EWR2 which could reduce the cumulative barrier down time by 25-40 minutes per 24 hour period – i.e. up to 2 minutes per hour could be saved. These improvements could be implemented by 2022.

However, I will be pointing out that running just one extra train each hour wipes out any time savings. We already know there will be more trains than originally planned; building 1 million houses in the region will surely mean even more trains, and the railway through Bicester already has the capacity to handle more trains – both passenger and freight.

On 25 October the Oxford Mail confirmed our Councillors pledge to push for London Road level crossing funding. See also this article here.

Network Rail say they are “committed to working with Oxfordshire County Council (as the Highways Authority) to secure a permanent road solution (overbridge or underpass) for London Road Level Crossing”.

As I have said, such a solution appears not to be funded. And as was posted on this site in 2017 a replacement bridge or tunnel at London Road could cost more than £60 million. The cost is no doubt considerably more than it would have been, had it been implemented in 2015. Yet if a solution is delayed beyond 2023 the cost will sky-rocket. 

Whilst no announcement on funding was forthcoming in the Budget on 29 October, it does seem that things could be moving forwards at last and the elephant in the room is not going to be ignored. Getting it right first time is often the best and most cost effective way.

Cambridge to Oxford Expressway

At the AGM I gave an update on the proposed Expressway between Cambridge and Oxford. This new type of ‘smart’ expressway will feel more like a motorway with signage on a blue background and some ‘Smart’ motorway features. It will have emergency refuge areas, a variable speed limit, active traffic management but no hard shoulder.

In November 2017, the National Infrastructure Commission published its report “Partnering for Prosperity” which talks about designing transport to unlock major housing growth. The report says that for the arc from Oxford to Cambridge to maximise its economic potential… “current rates of house building will need to double – delivering up to one million new homes by 2050″

Opportunities for growth include expansion of Milton Keynes to a population of 500,000 and development between Bicester and Bletchley, unlocked through the combination of East West Rail and the Expressway, with the potential to grow to city-scale.

Key to this Expressway is closing a 30 mile gap in the national strategic road network between the M1 at Milton Keynes and the M40. On 12 September 2018, the Government announced the preferred corridor for the Expressway from the M1 at Junction 13. It would broadly follow the route of East West Rail via Winslow and likely pass south of Bicester to the M40 and continue eventually to Oxford and Abingdon.

Expressway preferred Corridor B

The preferred route could be announced in 2020 – the first time the public get to have a say. The Expressway could cost £3.5bn and open by 2030.

It strikes me that there is no debate and no joined-up thinking on whether this motorway-on-the-cheap is a good idea, let alone whether a million homes is even feasible. Are there enough water resources to support another 2.4 million people regionally? Another 300,000 homes in Oxfordshire in the space of 30 years would more than double the existing housing stock, built up over hundreds of years! Councils have already been asked where they might put these extra houses. Local Wildlife Trusts say that the corridor selected is possibly the worst option and have launched a Judicial Review. Covering the countryside in concrete could be a catastrophe.

London Road level crossing

Langford residents suffering ongoing delays and problems at the London Road level crossing may wonder what is being planned to address this, especially in view of the increased number of passenger and freight trains that will eventually run when the East West Rail link to Bedford and beyond becomes operational.

A road bridge is planned to replace the level crossing on the ring road at Charbridge Lane, but the London Road crossing is more challenging. A report published in January 2017 by Network Rail for Oxfordshire County Council, titled “Development of Identified Options for London Road Level Crossing, Bicester – Key Findings”, outlines the problems involved and the options available. Two potential underpass options are being considered, with cost estimates varying between £61 million and £65million, and a bridge option is also under consideration at a cost of up to £44 million. A copy of this 3-page report can be downloaded from the OCC website.

Local Wildlife Sites petition

Further to the previous post on 19th October concerning Gavray Meadows, Pat Clissold has sent the following message:

“Dear friends,
I just signed the petition “Protect Local Wildlife Sites in law”  and wanted to ask if you could add your name too.
This campaign means a lot to me and the more support we can get behind it, the better chance we have of succeeding. You can read more and sign the petition here:
http://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/protect-local-wildlife-sites-in-law
Thank you!
Pat
P.S. Can you also take a moment to share the petition with others? It’s really easy – all you need to do is forward this message or share the above link on Facebook or Twitter.”

Further information about local wildlife sites can be found in the Wildlife Trusts’ “A short guide to Local Wildlife Sites” and also “Secret Spaces“. A list of Cherwell Local Wildlife Sites can be seen here. Problems facing Langford’s own Local Wildlife Space, Gavray Meadows, were also featured in the Guardian newspaper earlier this year.

Gavray Meadows, Langford Brook and Langford Fields

gavray-meadowsGavray Meadows is situated next to Langford Village on its north side. It is an area of about 12 hectares and is the only natural green space on the east side of Bicester. It connects to Langford Fields through Langford Brook. All three form part of the environment of Langford Village as much as does the civic centre. As part of our environment, we should be aware of the Meadows and care for it and its future. If it is built on, Langford Fields will have less variety of wildlife and will be a less pleasant place to walk in. I think that we all know that green space enhances the desirability of our houses and their market value. WHY are we not caring for this green space and WHY are we allowing the building of many houses with tiny “back yards” on Gavray Meadows without raising any protests?

I have just managed to get the Environment Agency to stop dumping of waste by factories on the Chaucer Industrial Park (north of Gavray Meadows) into Langford Brook as it flows past their old drains. Langford Village is named after Langford Brook and not vice versa. It is a very old water course arising near Stratton Audley and is used by sheep for drinking water. Its health is essential for our enjoyment of Langford Fields. Langford Fields and Gavray Meadows form a continuum, and animals and plant seeds travel freely between the two sites. Many of you walk your dogs over Langford Fields and worry about them going into Langford Brook to drink or cool off. I want a clean Brook so that people do not have to be afraid of getting a huge vet’s bill for curing their dog’s infections. All animals including ourselves need clean water. It is a requisite of life. Residents of Langford should be concerned and take an interest in the fate of our Brook and all of the ponds. I see the kingfisher and the heron regularly fishing in the balancing ponds. If you drop dog poo and fast food rubbish in these ponds, fish will die and you will no longer see these beautiful birds. Reed warblers arrive every spring to nest in the reeds of the middle pond which unfortunately looks like it is becoming very dirty due to non-caring humans dumping rubbish in it.

I know from my Community Facebook page that many people are concerned about wildlife. They want its conservation and they enjoy seeing it. Animals in the wild are far more interesting than caged examples. Children, especially, need to learn about animals in our environment because it teaches them to care for those weaker than themselves. Kindness to animals equates to kindness to other humans and such an attitude will last a lifetime. Gavray Meadows is where any one can learn to appreciate how certain species have co-evolved over centuries to adapt to old farming methods. They have adapted so well that their very existence is now under threat unless we save them by making some small sacrifices.

Since I have been photographing birds and butterflies living on the Gavray Meadows I have learnt an enormous amount about habitats, biodiversity and digital photography. Whereas before, all small birds looked like sparrows, now I see the differences and have photographed rarities in the most unexpected places within walking distance. The old trees alone, and the history of the farming land and hedges make Gavray Meadows worthy of preservation, let alone all the animals that depend on unimproved lowland farmland. Ecology is a science and will be a future employment opportunity as we struggle to maintain our planet in a healthy state. Ecologists use huge databases and complex mapping layers to record myriads of changes in animal and plant populations. Their work is necessary to our survival. If we want some green space left we have to make sacrifices and work for the survival of species. The easiest way to start is to take an interest in and care for what is on your own doorstep: Langford Fields, the Brook and Gavray Meadows.

Pat Clissold (DPhil)

https://www.facebook.com/WildLifeNewsGavrayMeadows/