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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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