Network Rail supports Thatcham housing site offering bridge
NETWORK Rail has lent its support to a housing site in Thatcham offering a bridge over the railway.
The rail operator said it supported development that would close the town’s congestion hotspot level crossing.
The Colthrop Village Consortium had put forward plans for 950 homes south of the railway line and Kennet & Avon Canal in West Berkshire Council’s Local Plan Review.
A bridge over the railway and water, a two-form entry primary school, a financial contribution towards a new secondary school and a local centre are included in the scheme.
The proposed bridge would come off a new roundabout at Pipers Way and into roads at the housing development leading on to Crookham Hill.
The council has proposed 2,500 homes at north east Thatcham and has asked developers to provide a new secondary school, two primary schools, playing pitches, a country park and shops.
Thatcham Town Council has argued that a bridge must be included to mitigate the traffic from a development the size of Hungerford being added to north east Thatcham.
In a letter to the council’s chief executive Nick Carter, Network Rail interim Wales and Western managing director Mike Gallop outlined support for closing Thatcham level crossing.
He said: “We advise that the council should undertake viability testing for any proposed allocated site which it considers would have an impact on the railway infrastructure, so that any mitigation required would be provided for.
“There have been several sites put forward for allocation in and around Thatcham level crossing as part of this Local Plan Review.
“The Rainsford Farm and former Colthrop Paper Mill site in the Local Plan Review being put forward by Colthrop Village Consortium includes the provision of a bridge over the railway, so that Thatcham level crossing can be closed.
“We support the closure of Thatcham level crossing, therefore fully support any development that includes mitigation in the form a bridge that can replace the existing road.”
Mr Gallop said that Network Rail was responsible for assessing, managing and controlling the risk of around 6,000 level crossings in Britain.
But he said they were “a feature of a bygone age; creating additional risk for passengers, road users and our colleagues”.
He said: “Therefore, we look to increase the safety of all level crossings and, where possible, close them with a new route being provided.”
Previous estimates for providing a bridge range between £20m and £30m, with the Colthrop Village Consortium stating that the estimated £12m cost could be funded by sales from the rest of its development.
Network Rail and West Berkshire Council have said that Government funding would be needed for a bridge.
On why a bridge had not been included with north east Thatcham homes, the council’s planning policy manager Bryan Lyttle had said: “If we build a bridge then the traffic will come and not go to where we want our traffic to be dispersed in West Berkshire.
“It would become a rat run to go into Basingstoke and Greenham.
“Everyone that travels along Crookham Hill knows it’s not suitable for that level of traffic.”
Planning consultant Mark Berry, for JSA planning, working for the Colthrop Village Consortium, said: “While some increase is possibly unavoidable, there is no evidence to show that the highway impact would be severe or unacceptable.”
He added that a bridge would support a more integrated community with enhanced access to the railway station, improved bus connectivity and improved links to a wider cycleway network.
It would encourage walking, “reduce unnecessary circuitous journeys” to avoid the level crossing and improve air quality through reduced pollution from standing vehicles.