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Soham rail plan ‘pushed through in lockdown’ claim

A council has been accused of preventing public discussion of controversial plans for a new station in Soham which, it is claimed, could cause a severe risk of flooding for more than 50 homes and businesses.

Donna Martin, who also speaks on behalf of other concerned residents at Mill Corner and Mereside, said they only found out that plans had been submitted to East Cambridgeshire District Council planners through a ‘tip off’.

“I say ‘plans’ in the loosest sense as what has been put forward is a mismatch of flimsy and misleading documents and desk-based assessments which are not based on fact,” said Mrs Martin.

Soham station (6849436)
Soham station (6849436)

“We have not seen a surveyor on site and important things like certification of land ownership, accurate maps and site elevations are not included in the documents presented to the council.

“The proposal does not even meet current legal requirements and yet ECDC planning refuses to engage in a dialogue and intends to proceed regardless of the Covid-19 Act preventions.”

Mrs Martin said there was a long list of concerns including the impact of the plans on the neighbouring Conservation Area and its wildife, which includes badgers, bats, lizards and great crested newts. She said it would also involve the removal of a stand of 40 mature trees which would be cut down to accommodate the proposed car park.

Other issues which Mrs Martin claims have not been addressed despite residents’ attempts to raise them with ECDC, Network Rail and the Cambridge and Peterborough Combined Authority, include access, traffic, parking, lighting, noise and pollution.

But it is the car park which is at the forefront of residents’ concerns because they believe it will increase the risk of flooding which they have already lived with for years.

Mrs Martin’s 17th-century cottage at Mill Corner is within feet of the proposed new station car park which is elevated about three metres above the level of homes in the immediate area.

“The plan for the car park doesn’t include any drainage but it shows that it will slope towards our homes and the water will run off towards our property,” said Mrs Martin

“My neighbours’ house has been flooded four times in the last 25 years and the water level in my garden has been so high that we have been issued with sandbags by ECDC. But they still refuse to acknowledge the increased flood risk to the 11 cottages at Mill Corner and another 40 or 50 properties in Mereside which could have a serious impact on the lives of hundreds of people.”

Mrs Martin said that she and other residents were not opposed to the re-opening of a station for Soham, 76 years after the original building was destroyed when a train carrying bombs for the D-Day landings blew up and 55 years after the prefab which replaced it was rendered obsolete when Dr Beeching’s axe fell on the line in 1965.

“All we want to do is raise awareness that plans for the new station have been submitted in dubious circumstances while we are all under lockdown. Soham residents have a right to know what is going on before it’s too late.”

Rebecca Saunt, East Cambridgeshire Council’s planning manager, said that during the pandemic the council had followed government guidance that authorities should continue to provide the best service possible and prioritise decision-making to ensure the planning system continued to function, especially where this would support the local economy.

“We have tried to maintain ‘business as usual’ where it is safe to do so,” she said. This includes planning officers being available by email and telephone as well as undertaking socially distanced site visits where necessary”.

Ms Saunt said Soham Station was an application for Prior Approval under Part 18 of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amended) Order 2015rather than an application seeking planning permission.

“Prior approval applications do not have to go through the same process as planning applications as this is a permitted development as set out in the legislation. The application seeks confirmation from the council that this is the case. There is no planning judgment involved as it is a matter of compliance with this legislation.

“This application is still pending consideration and public comments can still be made up until the point of determination, for which the target date is June 26, 2020. Residents are able to make comments and view all documents submitted via our planning portal on our website.”