Network Rail has been denied permission to drive a temporary service road across Hempstead Meadows Local Nature Reserve as part of its plan to extend Uckfield railway station platform.
Uckfield Town Council, owners of the reserve, refused to allow Network Rail to use the land for two main reasons: fears for the nature reserve and concern traffic associated with the works would cause chaos in the High Street and damage trade.
Network Rail has said its other options were accessing the site via Mill Lane, Alexandra Road or a longer route via the Bird-in-Eye business estate, which is in Framfield.
It has said the Alexandra Road option was not feasible and that using Mill Lane will cause disruption for nearby residents, businesses and those who use the route as a short cut from New Town to the High Street.
Longer trains to alleviate overcrowding
The town council made its decision last night.
It also requested Network Rail find an alternative site access while stressing it supported the lengthening of the platform to accommodate longer trains and help alleviate over-crowding on peak time services.
Before councillors began debating the issue, town clerk, Ashley Serpis, said Network Rail had concerns about the route via Bird-in-Eye because of the number of landowners involved and Environment Agency permission would be more difficult to obtain because of the “interface” of the temporary road and the river.
Cllr Jeremy Hallett said his biggest concern was the extra traffic crossing the High Street.
Cllr Paul Meakin said they had to consider the residents, the environment and the traders.
Cllr Louise Eastwood said she would like the town council to fully support the re-opening of the line to Lewes and the building of the longer platform on the other side of the road.
Town Mayor Cllr Ian Smith said he understood the start date was under review.
More detail of the councillors’ comments appears further down this story.
Platform extension timeline
UckfieldNews.com has given extensive coverage to the issue. Here is a timeline of our coverage:
February 13: Uckfield rail platform extension work looms
February 17: Uckfield rail platform extension plan hits snag
February 21: Comment article by “Observer” – Uckfield platform plan is all wrong, says Observer
April 4: Comment by “Observer” – Too many unanswered questions over rail platform extension, says Observer
Here are the options Network Rail said it had to access the site
Summary of what the councillors said
Cllr Paul Sparks opened the debate and said: “I think we all accept the need to get a longer platform in Uckfield station because there is an overcrowding situation on the trains.
“But not at any cost and I believe this recommendation to use Hempstead Meadows is too high a price to pay for that.
“We talk about 5.5% of the nature reserve. I don’t think it matters the amount of the nature reserve that is affected by this. We have got a responsibility to maintain and look after that nature reserve. and I think this recommendation would do severe harm to it.
“I am also extremely concerned about the impact on Waitrose car park. That gets full on a regular basis already. To restrict the number of car parking spaces and also have some sort of compound in the car park – I think that is bad news with regards to shoppers in Uckfield.
“I am also staggered by Network Rail’s recommendation that vehicles leaving River Way should turn left.
“I can see them going on the other side of the road blocking traffic coming down towards the Boots corner. And they are going to go up on the kerb so we have spent thousands of pounds recently improving the pavement in that area just to have heavy goods vehicles going over it.”
Cllr Alan Whittaker said: “Yes to a platform extension. No argument there. No to the nature reserve being put at risk.”
Cllr Whittaker criticised an environmental report which had been produced for Network Rail about the impact a road would have on the nature reserve.
He said the report’s author had failed to recognise a ditch as a natural spring and home for elvers (young eels) and they seemed unaware that the site wanted by Network Rail was favoured by nesting ducks.
“They fail to mention the reserve’s small mammals. They are happy for work to be undertaken within five metres from nesting birds even though it is acually illegal to cut hedges during the nesting season and those brambles there could be considered as hedging.
“Uckfield Town Council has a moral and statutory duty to protect its nature reserves. It is not its job to facilitate Network Rail at the expense of Mother Nature,” he said.
Cllr Helen Firth said the option via Thorne Engineering at Bird-in-Eye could not be recommended by the town council as the land was in Framfield.
‘Create a dam’
Cllr Jim Molesworth Edwards said that an access road across the nature reserve would create a dam at times of heavy rain and it would make the flooding situation in Olives Meadow worse than it would have been.
Deputy town mayor Cllr Jeremy Hallett said: “My biggest fundamental concern is that there is going to be extra traffic crossing High Street or going in and out on the High Street.
“If they use the station car park they can go straight across into Mill Lane.
Disruption to trade
“An absolute key thing to my mind is that we have seen the disruption when the south end of Uckfield High Street was being worked on. I don’t see how we could really ask High Street shop owners to put up with more work to be done at the south end of Uckfield High Street at the same time as work on the north end of the High Street possibly including Waitrose car park all at the same time.
“It’s something I just cannot get my head round as being remotely acceptable.”
Cllr Paul Meakin referred to the disruption a road across the nature reserve would cause to the residents of Olive Meadow. He said he also wholeheartedly supported the extension of the platform.
Concerns for Olive Meadow residents
“We have to consider our residents, our environment and our traders,” he said.
He said in his opinion Mill Lane and River Way were totally impractical from a transport access point of view in the High Street.
He pointed out that the disruption caused by the route across the nature reserve would be greater for the people in Olives Meadow because of the length of time to build the service road and to take it away when the work was complete.
He was also concerned about flood risk and the road being washed away during heavy rain.
Cllr Louise Eastwood said she wanted the town council to send Network Rail a letter saying they fully supported the opening of the Uckfield to Lewes line therefore building a bigger platform on the opposite side of the road would be more beneficial and cause less disruption.