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Surrey County Council proposes to withdraw its objection to Airtrack without securing a tunnel for Egham.

At a meeting of its ruling Cabinet on Tuesday 28th September 2010, Surrey County Council will discuss withdrawing the objections it made to the Airtrack proposals.
A 10 page report has been prepared for the Cabinet to justify this, although the report does not contain any new material other than the following statement:

“an underpass would not be economically viable in that the cost of providing an underpass would exceed the monetary benefits of improving journey times and reducing the delays due to the impact of Airtrack”.
The County Council has been offered £ 11 million by BAA / Airtrack in return for withdrawing the objection.
This money, however, is only available if the Council agrees to use it for things other than the tunnel, such as traffic lights, traffic management, and improving other roads and roundabouts.
In considering Airtrack’s offer Surrey County Council appear to have entirely disregarded the flaws in the amended Environmental Statement (the 2nd Addendum) published this summer. For example they have accepted Airtrack’s assertion that while Pooley Green crossing iscurrently closed for 25 minutes an hour to allow 8 trains to pass, an additional 8 trains an hour can be accommodated with only 5 minutes of closure. They appear to have convinced themselves that Egham’s problems do not need a solution, just a little “mitigation”.
The report states that the County Council have:

“developed an alternative package of transport improvements… The package does not, and cannot, improve existing level crossing downtimes. The mitigation package is not designed to reduce downtimes below the current situation evident in Egham.”
If you believe, as we do, that Surrey County council is proposing to ignore the problems Airtrack will bring to Egham simply to avoid having to preparing a submission to the Public Inquiry, (and of course, £ 11 million towards its roads budget) please act now:
Contact Mr Ian Lake, the Cabinet member in charge of transport i.lake@surreycc.gov.uk before Tuesday’s meeting, telling him what a disgrace the proposal is.
And then lobby your Councillors to make their own voices heard.

September 2010
Having been lobbied by the entire commnity in Egham, Surrey County Council last year agreed to Object to the Airtrack application on the ground of the damage to Egham caused by Level Crossing Closures.
They are now proposing to WITHDRAW their objection (to be discussed at Cabinet Meeting on 28 September 2010, at 14.00, County Hall, Penrhyn Road, Kingston, open to the public).
A lenghty report, available elsewhere on this site, explains that Surrey want to save £ 300,000 of Officer time preparing for the Public Inquiry, and that BAA have offered £ 11 million towards some highways works in return for the Objection being withdrawn.
The report does not provide any new information to justify the change of policy other than that the tunnel cannot be justified on cost grounds, if the benefits are calculated solely as “monetary benefits of improving journey times and reducing the delays due to the impact of Airtrack”, ignoring all other considerations.
It accepts wholesale several contentious assumptions made by Airtrack, some in the Addendum to the Environmental Statement, and some whose source is unknown. (See our response for more detail)
Our County Council is abandoning any attempt to secure a tunnel for Egham, in return for a package which “does not, and cannot, improve existing level crossing downtimes. The mitigation package is not designed to reduce downtimes below the current situation evident in Egham. Its purpose is to provide mitigation for the increased downtime as a result of implementing Airtrack services. We expect the downtimes to get worse in the coming years”
Please send your protests to the County Council about this shameful about-turn, and please come to the council offices on Tuesday 28th at 14.00 (County Hall, Penrhyn Road Kingston) and exercise your democratic right to see your elected representatives make their decisions in your name.
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Airtrack Update, 01 August 2010
PUBLIC INQUIRY POSTPONED INDEFINATELY.
We have received a letter from the Department for Transport regarding the timetable for the Airtrack Application. The crucial bit:
“…Since our letter of 29 January the Government has confirmed that its most urgent priority is to tackle the UK’s budget deficit and that there will be a spending review in the autumn. The review may have implications for the proposed funding of the Airtrack scheme and until the position becomes clearer we do not consider it appropriate to take matters forward by announcing a date for the inquiry…”
Not dead, but definately in hibernation.
Don’t throw your notes away, but they can probably go into the garden shed.
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Airtrack Update 03 July 2010
Surrey County Council is reviewing their position on Airtrack in the light of the new Environmental Statement.
– On Monday 05 July the Council’s officers will publish their report on Airtrack’s Env Statement 2, the Addendum.
– On 13 July the Cabinet of SCC will discuss whether the new information materially affects their position on Airtrack’s application.
– On 20 July the Full Council will meet and decide whether the new info should result in them changing their position. However, it is pretty much sure that the relevant decision will be taken at the cabinet meeting on 13 July.
We would expect the Cabinet to be responsive to representations by both the public and by non-cabinet councillors.
But the new amended estimates will give them reasons for saying that Egham is not a special case which requires disproportionate resources. We need to make sure Surrey don’t water down their objection of the application.
Please write to your county councillors reminding them that the new estimates do not give a realistic picture of the impact on Egham, and even if they are believable the impact will be severe.

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Egham Residents Association

While the rest of us were getting our heads round the 2010 election result, Airtrack did an “Stephen Byers” and slipped out an amendment (Addendum) to their Environmental Statement. There is 100 pages of it. A summary is also available. Mr Adrian Skelt, on behalf of the Egham Residents Association has made a rather more infomative extract (which i have mislaid). If you prefer print, the full documents are to be found at these locations. In essence, the assessments we objected to last summer have been changed. The TWA section at the Dept for Transport told me that our objections still stand and will be considered at the Public Inquiry.

However since most people objected on the basis that the projected level crossing down-times at Egham were intolerable, it is obvious that it would be easier for Airtrack’s lawyers to dispute our objections as being no longer relevant in the light of the new “evidence”. Some “Addendums” to our objections may therefore be useful.

The deadline is 23 June 2010.

To object: please write to The Dept. for Transport TWA Unit.

If you are tempted to write to your MP, please note that MPs who are Ministers are restricted in their ability to make decisions that directly affect their own constituents (presumably because it will affect their chances in the next election). So the Airtrack decisions will probably be delegated to a junior minister.

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Airtrack Update, 13 May 2010

We congratulate our MP, Mr Philip Hammond on his appointment to the cabinet as Secretary of State for TRANSPORT!!! The community of Egham will look forward to him pushing with all the resources at his disposal for the tunnel at Pooley Green which he has acknowledged will be necessary if Airtrack is to proceed.

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Airtrack Update April 2010

Airtrack is apparently still a live issue, at least until the election. The Egham Chamber of Commerce continues to keep up the pressure on those who can help us get a solution for Egham, and continues to monitor the situation.

TWA Application next stage
As of now BAA continues to express an intention to build the line to Staines. The application was submitted, the objections (including over 950 written objections about the impact on Egham) have been received and the Secretary of State has decided that there will be a public inquiry. However, various parties including our local authority and Richmond Council have protested about the inadequacy of the timetable modelling, and the (lack of ) detail in Airtrack’s assessments of level crossing impacts.

They have demanded additional work be done on level crossing impacts and the feasibility of timetabling the extra trains without impacting on existing services, and this work is currently being done by Network Rail on behalf of BAA . As a result, the public inquiry has been put back provisionally to the autumn. Egham Chamber will be contacting those who expressed support once the inquiry date is set, to help put together our case for a tunnel at Pooley Green.

Possible Solution
A working group has been set up to look at the technical feasibility of a tunnel at Pooley Green. Technical people from Runnymede Borough Council, Surrey County Council’s Highways Department, Network Rail and BAA have been meeting under the Chairmanship of RBC’s head of technical services , Peter Sims.
They are coming to the conclusion that a tunnel with a speed limit of 20 miles an hour is probably feasible. (30mph probably isn’t practical unless heavy vehicles are excluded, and there is a reluctance to consider a new piece of highway that is not suitable for all types of traffic.) The loss of residential property would be limited (possibly as little as one). There remain some elements which Network Rail has to approve, which is not surprisingly holding things up. Also there are aspects of the provisional plan relating to flooding that need Department of Environment approval.

One major outstanding problem is the claim by BAA that Egham’s traffic problems are so badly affected by congestion at the Runnymede roundabout that a tunnel at Pooley Green would not make the traffic move any more freely. Surrey County Council have acknowledged that they probably need to do major work to improve traffic at the roundabout before they can make the economic case for a tunnel. The estimated cost for the roundabout work is £ 2million to £ 5million. Surrey County Council is broke.

Money and Politics
We are told that the tunnel is likely to cost between £ 20 million and £ 40million. Airtrack as a whole is likely to cost over £ 800 million. Runnymede Borough Council, having taken on board the overwhelming weight of local protest, are now fully with us in pushing for a tunnel, but they have no responsibility for Highways.

Surrey County Council has also recognised this as a problem which cannot be solved by any other means and are funding the feasibility study.However, Surrey are the Highways Authority, and their stance in respect of the funding of the tunnel itself is that they can’t afford it and that Airtrack will have to make a significant contribution to the cost. They will object in the public inquiry to various aspects of the Airtrack proposal, mostly relating to Spelthorne / Staines.

It is not entirely clear whether a contribution towards our tunnel is one of Surrey County Council’s demands or merely a request. Meanwhile our MP Mr Philip Hammond has distracted himself from his front-bench responsibilities and been in communication with the Chief Executive of Network Rail, Mr Iain Coucher.

Mr Coucher has conceded that Network Rail have a policy position that level crossings are undesirable and where possible should be replaced. Network Rail have admitted to Mr Hammond that Network Rail has a pot of money (size unknown) towards alternatives to level crossings, and have informally acknowledged that our problems in Egham would probably justify dipping into the pot. The funds available are unlikely to to be anywhere near enought. But our case was helped a little by the fact that Mr Coucher came to Egham to meet Mr Hammond, and was fortuitously delayed by the level crossings.

Heathrow Expansion
Meanwhile in another part of the urban jungle, the High Court recently ruled against the government’s decision that a third runway should be built at Heathrow . The judge required the government to review its decision, mainly on the grounds that the decision was based on a 2003 consultation and did not take into consideration 2008 legislation on carbon emission and pollution, nor the advances in the science of climate change since 2003. A further leg of the judgement was that commitments had been offered in the 2003 consultation on noise and road and rail access and there was reason to think those could not or would not be met. Labour has said that if it wins the election it will continue to push for Heathrow expansion. The Liberal Democrats and (for now) the Conservatives say that if they win there will be no expansion at Heathrow. Egham Chamber has not verified the view of the Green Party but it is probable that if they form the next government they also will oppose expansion. Which technically has nothing to do with Airtrack, but if Heathrow is not allowed to expand the economic case for Airtrack will need to be reviewed too.

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BAA and Network Rail made an application under the Transport and Works Act

In July 2009, BAA and Network Rail made an application under the Transport and Works Act, (TWA) to build a new rail line from Staines to Heathrow, and totally mess up Egham’s level crossings.
The applicants want to build a new line between the airport and Staines, which will improve public transport to the airport by allowing direct trains to Heathrow from Waterloo, Reading and Guildford. Two thirds of the additional trains (an extra 8 trains an hour, 2 to 3 minutes each) will go through Egham’s three already congested level crossings.

The Secretary of State for Transport considered the objections to the Application and decided to have a Public Inquiry, to decide whether Airtrack should be permitted, and on what conditions.

Egham has been united in demanding that a tunnel under at least one of our level crossing must be part of the project. However, because Airtrack is not planning to build anything in Egham, the Inspector will not need to consider what will happen in Egham if or when this scheme goes ahead. When the original Application was published in 2009, the Dept for Transport received submissions from about 1500 people and organisations. Out of these, 965 mentioned Egham’s level crossings as their reason for objecting to the application.

Based in the previous figures RBC had decided to “Object” to the scheme unless something is be done about our crossings. SCC also stated that Airtrack should fund “mitigation measures” to reduce the impact on Egham. RBC have not changed their position since the new figures were published. SCC have not yet considered whether to change theirs. As a result of the campaign Runnymede Borough Council (RBC), Surrey County Council (SCC), BAA and Network Rail were persuaded to carry of a feasibility study, and they now judge that a tunnel at Pooley Green is feasible, though the cost, estimated at £ 20 million will need to be justified using objective criteria.
So the only barriers to getting across the railway line are funding and political will.

***Airtrack‘s latest Environmental Statement says:”In all cases, responsibility for addressing the issues rests with Network Rail in operating the barriers and with the local highway and planning authorities to develop traffic, land use and infrastructure proposals in relation to policy and current and predicted traffic flows.”This is a totally unacceptable. This project is being promoted by BAA and it is a private sector project. We cannot allow them to push all the social and environmental costs onto us.

Our objectives should be:
to persuade the Inspector at the Public Inquiry that the impact on Egham must form part of her/his judgement about the scheme and then, that s/he makes funding for the tunnel a condition for the project being allowed to proceed;

to ensure that it is politically unacceptable for BAA to disclaim responsibility for the problems they will cause;

to persuade the Department for Transport and Surrey County Council (the Highways Authority for Egham) that the impacts of extra level crossing down-times means that funding the tunnel is economically and socially justified;

to ensure that our local Council, RBC, does not allow the problem to drift into the long grass. (OK, sorry about mixed metaphor but I have better things to do than find the right one);

to explain to residents that the impacts on them during construction will be worth putting up with;

to mobilise all those who will be affected by additional congestion (residents, businesses and organisations, health services, the emergency services, and users of local, through and nearby main roads);

to continue campaigning and raising the issue at every opportunity to put pressure on Network Rail to cooperate and to persuade the Secretary of State for Transport to push through a change in the law (as proposed by him in 2002)

to force Network Rail to “share” level crossings with road uses on a fair basis. There’s probably something YOU can do to help.