Network Rail’s hopes of doing some initial work next month on its project to extend the railway station platform at Uckfield look to have been dashed.
Uckfield town councillors aired considerable concerns about the plan to access the site across part of the Hempstead Meadows Local Nature Reserve.
Members of the council’s environment and leisure committee meeting last night (February 16) called for more information before making a decision.
The committee is not scheduled to meet again until March 30.
Preferred access route
As reported last week by UckfieldNews.com, Network Rail’s preferred route to access the site was to build a road across the nature reserve so it could extend the platform by 48m to accommodate up to 12-car trains, if needed.
The land would be reinstated after the works which would last just under a year. Network Rail has offered the council £5,000 to be spent on the reserve or similar nearby areas.
It was also negotiating with Waitrose to use part of the supermarket’s car park for a compound.
You can read our full report here
An alternative route to the site via Mill Lane was not favoured because of the need to strengthen two bridges, establishing a site compound in an overflow car park and making deliveries along the lane where cars are parked.
At the town council committee meeting, Cllr Helen Firth said: “Politely, tell them to go and suck lemons because we are not having our nature reserve destroyed. I cannot see how they can expect us to accept this. Tell them to find an alternative.”
Cllr Jeremy Hallett, deputy town mayor, said to a large extent the reserve would recover over a period of time. “Before we did anything we would have to make absolutely certain that nothing would be permanently damaged.
“The amount of money talked about is woefully inadequate,” he said.
Cllr Hallett suggested it could take up to ten years for the reserve to recover. “My thoughts are leaning towards that they have got to go in through the Roller Mill and reinforce the bridge,” he said.
He felt councillors needed far more information on the flora and fauna, professional opinions on how long it would take the land to recover and the costs of managing that work.
Committee chairman, Cllr Alan Whittaker, asked how the compensatory sum of £5,000 be adequate for eight months’ work. He was sure Waitrose would want much more.
He believed Network Rail wished to go through the nature reserve because it was the easier option and less costly.
“They admit there is a possibility of oil spillage, the access road will be 5m wide, the road will be raised to the height of the railway, we are dealing with articulated lorries – they are eight-wheeler lorries – and the noise that this will cause will be a huge disturbance to the wildlife.
“They want to remove three trees, they want to remove brambles; well brambles are a very important nesting habitat,” he said.
Cllr Whittaker was worried about the ecological information. “There is no mention that ducks have actually nested there; there is no mention of small mammals.The work will take place throughout the whole of the nesting season. It is damaging,” he said.
Cllr Whittaker said it was his personal view that if the work went ahead it would be “vandalism approved by this council”, for a “paltry” sum and would be a precedent for the future.
Need for more information
Cllr Mick Harker reminded councillors they represented the whole community and that Mill Lane was narrow, used by pedestrians with many parked cars.
He said: “To have heavy lorries up and down there will have an enormous impact on the area. The balance is the impact on that area against the nature reserve.”
He said there needed to be an assessment of the impact of going through Mill Lane, an assessment of what the plan would mean for the nature reserve and to discover what view Waitrose was taking.
Councillors agreed to seek more information and to involve councillors and members of the local nature reserve committee in the discussions.
Earlier, during a period reserved for public speaking, Dr Martyn Stenning, chairman of the nature reserve committee, emphasised the ecological value of the area and the potential dangers of allowing a temporary road.
The question, he said, was whether the council was going to protect biodiversity or ask Network Rail to use an alternative.