New rail depot wins approval

Bristol Evening Post: 03 February 2012
Protesters outside the South Gloucestershire Council offices in Thornbury ahead of the public planning meeting over the rail depot at Stoke Gifford Picture: Jon Kent

A CONTROVERSIAL rail depot at Stoke Gifford has been given approval – opening the door to electrification of the main line between Bristol and London.

Rail campaigners welcomed the decision, which they said would create jobs and help improve local rail services in the greater Bristol area. But angry residents who live near the 44-acre site claimed the new depot would ruin their lives.

South Gloucestershire councillors decided at a planning committee in Thornbury yesterday to give planning consent, with 11 votes in favour and one abstention, after a debate which lasted nearly two hours.

They imposed a raft of conditions in order to protect nearby residents from the impact of the new depot.

But afterwards Lesley Cox, one of the residents, said: "I am appalled because the evidence on which the debate was based was flawed.

Another resident, Heather Moseley, said: "We're disappointed but not surprised. The general feeling was that it was a done deal.

"We feel the residents' misgivings were dismissed and we were sacrificed in order to knock 15 minutes off the travel time between Bristol and London."

Transport campaigner Dave Redgewell said: "This is very good news for Bristol's economy.

"It's going to create jobs, protect existing railway employees and it will have the knock on effect of more local rail services.

"If this had not gone ahead, then it would have put back electrification of the main line for many years."

The rail depot, on a triangular patch of land near Parkway Station, will include a maintenance shed and sidings to park the new electric trains when they become operational in 2016/17. Work is expected to start later this summer, ready for testing trains by the middle of 2015.

The planning application was submitted by Hitachi Rail (Europe) which wants to run the electric trains on the Government-funded scheme, which will cost a total of £4.5 billion.

Andy Barr, Hitachi's head of maintenance, told councillors they had addressed the environmental issues to ensure that there would be "no noticeable impact" from the depot.

The sidings would have overhead wires to power the trains, which do not have to be uncoupled or shunted around. Some "biomode" trains do have diesel engines but these would only be switched on for testing purposes inside the maintenance shed.

Residents were worried about stray light keeping them awake at night but councillors were told that most of the lighting would be on waist-high posts because of the danger of dazzling train drivers on the nearby main line.

Ms Cox said South Gloucestershire Council had a reputation for allowing anything green to be concreted over and councillors had a duty to protect residents from industrial development near their homes.

She said: "If this site had not been available, then Hitachi would have had to go elsewhere.

"We feel this site happens to be cheap and convenient for them, but ruinous to us."

Planning officer Helen O'Connor spelt out to councillors how a raft of conditions would be imposed to lessen the impact of the depot.

She said experts were satisfied the new depot would not create noise above acceptable limits.

Cabinet councillor Brian Allinson, who is in charge of the council's transport and planning departments as well as representing Stoke Gifford ward, said he addressed the meeting wearing two hats.

He said he understood both sides because he appreciated the concerns of residents, yet saw the benefits of the new electric trains.

"I would urge the committee to take on board their concerns and if minded to approve, then toughen up some of the conditions," he said.

Keith Cranney (Con, Stoke Gifford) said when they first heard about the plans, they were very impressed but the residents thought the depot would be a blot on the landscape.

He said: "We want to see Hitachi go the extra mile to ensure the residents are protected, both now and in the future."

Among the extra conditions imposed were measures to be taken to prevent squeaky wheels on the tracks and a ban on other types of trains using the depot without further planning permission.

Mr Barr was asked if he would set up a liaison group so that Hitachi could meet with residents to discuss their concerns on a regular basis and he replied that it was his intention to do so.

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