Comment by Observer
Network Rail is hardly covering itself in glory over plans to extend the Uckfield railway station platform.
Network Rail (NR) seems to have come late to the issue of access to the site. It seems to follow set procedures and only addressed the problem earlier this year.
You would have thought access would have been the number one priority as the railway line is surrounded by other people’s property.
Using the railway line seems impossible because of “national priorities”. We are used to the Uckfield Line being at the bottom of any list of priorities.
Network Rail should have sought to resolve the access problems months ago. Instead, they are still embroiled in the issue and wanting to start work in July.
The town council has to make a difficult decision and there still seem to be a lot of questions unanswered. Councillors will want to weigh the impact of refusing the nature reserve route against the concerns for residents.
They certainly do need more information
For example, here are some questions and issues:
1. Will Waitrose allow the use of part of its car park? Without that, vehicle movements related to the project will double in the High Street. We are talking about lorries having to do a left out of the new station car park and then an almost immediate right into River Way, if the supermarket car park is out of bounds for a compound.
That looks like a recipe for chaos and will have traffic backing-up in Newtown.
Will Waitrose be happy for lorries to be driven across the car park? Can the supermarket afford to “lose” these car park spaces and will shoppers be happy at parking in such close proximity to such activity?
2. It also seems as if access from the car park to the nature reserve is not simple.
Reading a document that went to the council from Network Rail it was stated: “We would also need to work closely with the town council to review the conditions on the right of way into the Meadows to understand if a supplementary agreement is required with the landowner.”
Therefore, it appears this route is not only dependent on the town council but a third party as well (in addition to Waitrose).
3. Network Rail and the councillors again worried about the businesses and residents in Mill Lane. Was there any report on what their views were? No, nothing. All we had were assertions from the NR representative.
Can NR get the accesses and permissions it requires in Mill Lane? Again, no report.
4. A longer route via the small industrial estate at Bird-in-Eye Hill was also on the list of options. Are the landowners happy and willing to grant the access?
5. This route also seems to cross an ecological sensitive area, making Network Rail wary. It seems less wary about Hempstead Meadows. What’s the balance?
6. The Network Rail case was not helped, in my view, by the ecologist employed to do a report saying the nature reserve area they propose to cross was not “very special”. It may be true in ecological terms but it’s all a nature reserve. Am I alone in thinking that a nature reserve is the sum of all its parts?
7. He also seemed to imply “improving” the walkway from the car park gate to the boggy area was desirable. Not in my book. It’s a nature reserve, part of the flood plain and will get muddy in winter. Uckfield is urban enough – let the nature reserve be a wild place.
8. What’s the guarantee the stone road across the reserve, wrapped in geotextile, will not wash away if there is serious flooding? The River Uck is enormously powerful, as townspeople know.
9. What does Natural England think of the plan? Has anybody asked them?
Uckfield Town Council is planning to hold a special meeting to make a decision on Network Rail’s application.
I would suggest that before councillors meet, they hold an open, public debate in the Weald Hall to find out what townspeople think. That may throw up even more questions.
It was the failure, I believe, of the authorities to consult properly with townspeople before starting the first phase of the roadworks last autumn that led to many of the subsequent problems. I said the limited consultation they did was wrong and stored up so much ill-feeling which ended up with a parish poll.
Councillors need to consult, get answers to ALL the questions and then sit down and decide.
Network Rail may not like more delay but with the foresight they should have had, all this could have been settled.
Good decisions are made on good information.