Airtrack update – Local Area Committees

On 28 September Surrey CC agreed that their Local Area Committees should consult further before the plan to withdraw the objection is voted for by the meeting of the full council (80 members) in December.
On 07 October the MP for Egham, Philip Hammond, wrote in his column in the Staines and Egham News that “the amount of barrier down-time at these crossings is already intolerable, and the increase that Airtrack would entail is a show-stopper for this scheme”. Solutions will be costly. “But a solution there must be if the scheme is to go ahead. No solution, no scheme”.
He was, he says “dismayed when Surrey County Council made a serious error of judgement in grabbing a £11million bribe laid on the table by the scheme promoters…”. As a local MP with a constituency interest, Mr Hammond must leave any ministerial decisions about Airtrack to others, but Runnymede Councillors have been assured by Mr Hammond that the Department for Transport will look carefully at the model that was used by Surrey C.C. to justify its proposal.
Egham Chamber of Commerce is concerned that the model used is not adequate to reflect the complexity of the situation in Egham, where the level crossing downtimes impose costs not only on drivers (congestion costs) but also on residents, pedestrians, home-owners, businesses, employers, educational institutions and users of the emergency services, health services and public transport. We are reassured that the task of assessing this will be done by the Department for Transport.
it is to be hoped that BAA / Airtrack and Surrey County Council will both realise than when the Secretary of State for Transport takes a personal interest in the flaws in their scheme, these have to be remedied.

Airtrack Update, 02 October 2010
Surrey County Council’s Cabinet will recommend that Councillors should withdraw their objection to Airtrack at the Council’s meeting in December, in return for a contribution of £ 11.4 million towards highways improvements in the Egham area.
In a concession to the people who will be most badly affected, the Council’s “Local Area Committees” and the environment and transport select committees will be consulted before December, but the cabinet is not required to take any notice of their discussions. (Dates for the Local Area Committee meetings should be on SCC’s website) Surrey has modelled the traffic flows that they expect after Airtrack is built. According to the model, which is an approved Department of Transport model, the tunnel therefore cannot be justified, since the cost of a tunnel will exceed the monetary benefits of reducing additional congestion in Egham caused by Airtrack.
The council’s report does not state whether any other benefits were modelled. SCC’s cabinet member for transport has stated that the data input into the model was not derived entirely from Airtrack’s figures, but Surrey’s transport department has conceded that the downtimes in Egham which were provided by Airtrack are based on a best-case theoretical timetable which is unlikely to be achievable in practice.
Surrey have conceded that the money offered by Airtrack will not reduce queues and waits at Egham’s level crossings, but they hope that by making improvements to roads around Egham, they can reduce average congestion (for people who aren’t actually in or visiting the town). They intend to spend a significant amount on the long-delayed work to improve the Runnymede Roundabout, which will help traffic between the M25, the A30 and Windsor.
At the meeting on 28 September, cabinet member (and local resident) Cllr Mary Angell spoke out to demand that full transparency from the Transport department so that the information in the model can be examined, and the county councillors for Egham Hythe and for Englefield Green both made strong cases that the situation in Egham would be unacceptable if this policy was followed.
We expect that Runnymede Borough Council will look at the model outputs and conclude that they should come to the same decision, to withdraw their objection in order to save the money that would be spent presenting Egham’s case at the public inquiry. So far we don’t know whether this is on the agenda for RBC, and if so when they will debate the matter.
Egham Chamber of Commerce will continue to lobby Surrey County Council strongly to continue to fight for mitigation measure which will actually help local residents and businesses in the town, rather than taking Airtrack’s money to make it easier for outsiders to bypass the town.


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 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.
Airtrack Update, 01 August 2010
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.
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.



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.


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.


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.