17th November 2022

Public Meeting on replacing the Hatches Level Crossing

Author: Graham O'Connell:
Hatches Railway Crossing

I thought I'd do a brief review of last night's Network Rail meeting. I have copied in Stuart Black as he was there too and James Ktoris, a local resident, who has been closely involved with this matter. They may be able to add different perspectives or things I have missed.

The meeting was a much better affair than the early ones. I felt the small team presenting were on the ball, they explained things well, seemed pretty straight and for the most part quite open. I won't try and reflect the vast array of questions and views put forward but they seemed to fall into three main areas: safety, the impact on residents and environmental issues.

As before quite a few residents seem to think that the expenditure on a bridge is disproportionate to the risk. However, one resident from near the level crossing put forward a passionate and well argued case about the risks at the crossing, especially from those with a more casual or reckless approach to crossing the line.

The narrative risk assessment done by Network Rail is not the best I've seen but it does at least articulate the issues they take into account which, for a large part, is set down for them and not a matter of discretion. From a wider community perspective I think most people take a broader view based on their experience and do take into account the lack of incidents in the past, the fact that a bridge does have some negative aspects and the benefits offered by a simple, quick route via a crossing. None of these are allowed to feature in the Network Rail assessment but they will be considerations at the planning stage where they will need to be highlighted.

Those in Spencer Close were particularly concerned about motion activated lights on the bridge going on and off at night (currently around 90 people use the crossing between midnight and 6am) and there were concerns about being overlooked (probably not likely in their bedrooms because of screening by trees, though no one is certain, but could they be seen in their gardens?). The drone footage showing the site of the bridge is not ready yet but should be soon though because of the height it flies at (not the same as the height of the bridge) I'm not sure whether it will be enough to satisfy residents.

On the environmental front about 1200 sq metres of trees would be removed, particularly for the new path on the west side of the railway. Whilst most of these trees are not in themselves of individual high value they do collectively provide useful habitat for wildlife. Network Rail accepted that the preliminary ecological appraisal is not comprehensive and it was pointed out that disruption would affect everything from birds to adders (and bats, which were not mentioned but are seen in that vicinity regularly). This issue certainly needs more work, which I hope they will do, but we need to keep on at them to make sure it happens. They will do mitigation but at this stage we are not sure what that will be or where.

One of the key things to come out of the meeting is that the rising costs of a bridge may, at some point, make the project non viable. The impression I got is that this is a serious possibility but they were understandably cagey about saying too much.

My own personal view is that I can see the merits of a bridge, particularly from Network Rail's perspective, and I understand the legitimate doubts and concerns expressed by the overwhelming majority of residents. There is clearly not a cut and dried best option. But the marginal cost benefit difference between Miniature Stop Lights and a bridge is not great (and with rising costs getting smaller), the actual on the ground risk is actually pretty small (when weighed against crossing the road) and the negative impacts of a bridge are better recognised by those who will have to live with them than by Network Rail. So, on balance, I am still not persuaded that the proposed bridge is the better option. I am persuaded, however, that the Network Rail staff are adhering to the established procedures laid down for them. Others who attended may want to express their views.

I missed the very end so I'm not sure what the next step will be. For us it would probably be useful to have someone on the committee to be the main link on this issue now that I'm moving on; I'll leave that to you.

Lastly, I have been pretty hard on Network Rail in the past for their slowness to respond, poor communications and their unclear evidence - with good justification I might add. On this occasion, however, it seems only fair to thank them for a really helpful and well managed event so I will email them accordingly.

Network Rail have produced a glossy video about the planned replacement of the Hatches crossing with a new bridge at Spencer Close along with the new bridge at Farnborough North railway station: