East West Railway to undertake environmental surveys

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The East West Railway Company (EWR Co) is initiating new environmental surveys to help inform planning and design work for the East West Rail line connecting Cambridge, Bedford, Milton Keynes and Oxford.

EWR Co has written to over 600 landowners in and around the area, to ask for access to their land in order to help understand local environmental conditions.

The surveys – which will be carried out throughout 2021 – will gather data on plant and animal life, environmental features like rivers and streams, and historical features. This activity is part of EWR Co’s continued commitment to put environmental considerations at the heart of proposals for the new East West Rail connection.  The timing of the surveys is key as certain species can only be monitored at specific times of year.

The East West Railway Company has also taken the unusual step this week, of publishing an expansive set of initial baseline maps in a new interactive feature on the East West Rail Community Hub.

These maps have been developed using open-source data from national and local government agencies such as the Environment Agency, Natural England and Local Authorities as well as from sources such as the Woodland Trust and outline some of the complex factors which the EWR Co team has been taking into consideration as they progress early designs for East West Rail. EWR Co believes this is the first time such data has been shared by an infrastructure project in this way.

The initial baseline maps have been released ahead of a non-statutory public consultation planned for early 2021, when EWR Co will again ask people for their views on the railway. Together, the environmental surveying and the feedback from the consultation, combined with other data and research, will help EWR Co to develop potential designs for this critical rail connection in a way which protects and supports the local environment.

Ian Parker, EWR Co director of programme delivery, said: “Most of these digital maps are only available to organisations with the resources and technical tools to read them. However, we’d like to make sure that local communities have access to the same baseline data as the team here. We hope that taking the unusual step of publishing this data will help strengthen conversations with residents and their representatives – who have been incredibly generous with their time and expertise throughout the process.

“We are grateful to landowners and their representatives – including the National Farmers’ Union – for allowing us to gather the new surveying data and help create the right connections for their communities and the local environment.”

Following the planned consultation in early 2021, there will be further opportunities for members of the public to have their say in the design of East West Rail – once through a formal public consultation and finally when the plans are submitted to the Planning Inspectorate.

The data from the new environmental surveys will underpin an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), which will be published when EWR Co submits plans – expected to be in 2022.