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Proposed Substation for Network Rail     ...campaign updates

This "more" page continues with news of recent campaign developments from the introductory page. Please use links in the navigation bar to browse the rest of the site.

Most meetings of the Substation Action Group and its supporters are covered on our special SAG page.

March 2005

Local press reports suggest that Network Rail have not yet decided whether to appeal. An NR spokeswoman, Lesia Kozlowsky, is quoted by the Northwich Chronicle as saying : "We are still open to appeal but we are looking at a number of options as to what we can do if we don't build it at Weaverham. This will include whether it is possible to make the connection we need to the West Coast Main Line at any other sites and the cost implications".

There has been a suggestion that Weaverham is the only site for which SRA funding has been budgeted, and consequently it may be cheaper for Network Rail to try to force through an appeal than to look seriously at alternative sites for their Trackside Feeder, and hence for the substation (though the two can be several kilometres apart). This smacks of purely commercial decision-making, alien to the spirit of the planning process.

Meanwhile, equipment supplier ABB has announced a major order for the WCML :

"Zurich, Switzerland, November 2, 2004 - ABB, the leading power and automation technology group, said today it has won a $31 million contract from National Grid Transco (NGT) in the United Kingdom for equipment and services as part of a programme to upgrade the power supply of Network Railís West Coast Main Line (WCML).
"The new 25-0-25 kilovolt rail supply stations will allow Network Rail to upgrade trackside power supplies to the 50-kilovolt system required for high-speed rail services commonly used on mainland Europe. ABB will provide two new 400/25 kV connection points at each of two locations together with two remotely located 25 kV substations. The contracts include two ABB supergrid transformers, switchgear and cabling at each site, together with advanced substation protection and automation systems. There is also an option for the provision of design/engineering and procurement of long lead time equipment for a third, as yet unspecified, site."

On the PR date, the $31M figure would amount to some £17M. Do they know something that VRBC's planners don't?

Autumn 2004

The Substation proposals have been vigorously opposed within the local community, and our combined efforts have forced the developers to make a drastic revision of their plans, and to offer much more detailed analysis of alternatives. The June 2004 NGT / NR Supplementary Report was another big wire-bound document, with detailed arguments about electrical supplies, rail traction requirements, and further studies of alternatives such as a Frodsham / Weaver Junction arrangement, plus loads of maps and diagrams, including geophysical survey data. SAG analysed this new data, with valued and expert assistance from the academic and engineering community, and prepared a summary report for the Acton Bridge Parish Council, and for the public and local media, before submitting its formal response to Vale Royal Borough Council.

Largely as a result of the detailed technical criticisms which SAG was able to raise against the developers' Decemnber 2003 Environmental Report and June 2004 Supplementary Report, VRBC commissioned IPSA Power Limited to examine the technical arguments which had been put forward by National Grid. IPSA's report has recently become available, and SAG has once again produced a detailed commentary, for the benefit of VRBC and the wider community.

What's more, ISPA supports SAG's suggestions that well-proven power electronics technology such as phase balancing should be considered as part of the mainstream design process, rather than as remedial measures. These solutions could dramatically reduce the size and layout of the site, thereby opening up alternative locations, such as within NGT's existing substation at Frodsham.

Taking all their sources of information together, IPSA have come to exactly the same conclusion as SAG did in its submissions to the Local Planning Authority. IPSA point out that although the Acton Bridge and Weaverham sites may suit the developers commercially, they are not the only ones that are technically feasible, and may not be the best options when environmental considerations are applied. After reviewing alternative trackside feeder stations, IPSA's conclusion is that "It is technically feasible to provide an electrical connection to all three of the Trackside Feeder Stations. Planning, environmental, and cost implications will determine the final choice".

This confirms SAG's opinion that the NGT planning application for Acton Bridge and Weaverham fails the test of "very special circumstances" which would be needed to overturn the national and local presumption against "inappropriate development" on Green Belt land, and should be rejected.

You can read more about this on our Press Releases page.

July 2004

Cheshire County Council's Environment Strategic Panel seems to have swallowed NGT's arguments wholesale and uncritically, a fact apparently admitted by their own Officer during their public meeting on 15. July. This is extremely disappointing in view of the urgent efforts which SAG and its supporters made to provide CCC with a balanced view. Cheshire CC are only consultees to the planning process, so it may not be too serious, but their decision has certainly not been well received in the context of Local Government Reorganisation. Such crass treatment of local issues won't endear a Unitary Cheshire to the electorate!

Cllr Nora Dolphin has been a vigorous supporter of the campaign, and wrote an excellent piece for the Northwich Chronicle (11. August p 8 - 9 : see our updated news media page for details).

May 2004

Network Rail are also attracting dubious publicity of a different kind. The authoritative New Civil Engineer magazine (6. May 2004, p5) leads with a full-page article about Network Rail, who are, it says, banning redundant (former) employees from working in related fields for two years, even to the extent of imposing sanctions against consultancy firms that now employ them. An article about this on the uk.railway Internet user group received over two dozen immediate replies, suggesting that it does seem to be true, and quite widespread in its effect - at a time of serious skills shortages.

April 2004

The most recent meeting of the Substation Action Group was held on Thursday 22. April in Acton Bridge Parish Room. We were still awaiting the revised proposals from the developers; at that time, they had undertaken to provide these to the Local Planning Authority by the end of April, so there was not long to go!

March 2004
On-site fluorescent tube "Vigil" by SAG supporters, Monday 22. March 2004

Supporters of the Substation Action Group turned out in force on a blustery night to hold a "Vigil" in support of the campaign. They carried fluorescent tubes, which glowed remarkably brightly when held aloft under the 400kV electricity cables on the proposed site of the substation. SAG officers were careful to ensure that the event passed off safely by advising everyone to wear gloves and carry torches, and no children were involved. We also made a conscious decision not to publicise the event beforehand. It was hard to count the numbers in the dark, but estimates varied from 50 to 70. A photographer from "The Guardian" took some pictures, an excellent one of which illustrated a prominent article in the paper this week. See our News Media Page for details. Apologies for the poor quality of ours, at right : it really was quite dark!

SAG supporters' tubefest

The "tubefest" idea came from an artist's installation near Bristol, in which Richard Box stood over a thousand tubes in the ground. SAG found that the effect could be duplicated on a smaller scale if the tubes were merely held in the hand, like a "Star Wars" light sabre. This gives some indication of the massive electric field passing through the air (and body). Although our campaign is not principally about the health hazards, this was seen as a way of maintaining its momentum, and keeping up the noise level.

Mike Hall MP continues to be a vigorous and welcome supporter of our campaign. He invited members of SAG to present him with copies of their formal submissions, and some additional research papers we've written, at his Weaverham surgery on Friday 19. March. He also mentioned that he had secured an Adjournment Debate on Budget Day, and that the substation issue had been raised with, and answered by, the Minister of State at the Department for Transport, Dr Kim Howells.

Mike Hall said: "The National Grid and Network Rail have been unable to find a site in the Crewe area, and have come up with a site in Weaverham in my constituency, adjacent to the west coast main line. It will be a massive development. What the National Grid did not tell people during consultations was that the development will be the size of three rugby pitches. It will be slap-bang in the middle of green belt, and will be a blot on the landscape.

"The supreme irony of that is not lost on my constituents. Although we can no longer use the west coast main line services from Hartford, the improvements to the electricity supply, which will speed up the trains going from the north-west to London and vice versa, will be bang in the middle of our green belt. I am not opposed to the upgrading of the electricity supply to the west coast main line, but I am absolutely opposed to this location for the so-called substation and trackside feeder station. I believe that there are alternatives in the area, which the National Grid has so far failed to explore".

The Minister responded as follows: "I appreciate what he said; he is trying to represent the interests of his constituents who live in that lovely part of the world, and who face the prospect of a substation suddenly being dumped in their back yard. However, the site is at the point where the 400 kV electricity supply line crosses the railway line, which is the most convenient spot for a substation to feed the west coast main line, enabling the new trains plying that line, which need much more electricity than existing trains, to receive the upgrade".

So, the Minister confirms that it's all a matter of convenience. You can read the full debate in Hansard.

Back to introductory page

February 2004

The Substation Action Group has reached an important milestone in its campaign against the construction of a huge substation by National Grid and Network Rail on Green Belt land between Acton Bridge and Weaverham. Local people are outraged by the three proposals for the substation, trackside feeder and replacement pylon, since, if built in such a sensitive location, this colossal installation would be an environmental disaster. SAG's formal response documents have been printed, bound, and submitted to Vale Royal Borough Council, Cheshire County Council and the Secretary of State, and a set was placed in Weaverham Library for public inspection on Friday 20. February.

We have recently learned that NGT asked to withdraw their Applications from consideration at CCC's regular Environmental Strategic Panel (ESP) on 10. March, in order to make some significant changes. We have not yet been given details, but we believe that these include making the replacement tower much less obtrusive (possibly even smaller than the existing one), and reducing the size of the substation site by abandoning the provision for later conversion to single switch mesh operation. The next ESP is not until 13. May.

While NGT's apparent withdrawal in response to SAG's carefully researched and reasoned campaign is to be welcomed, it calls into question the integrity of NGT's previous technical arguments, and whether the need for any such installation in Acton Bridge and Weaverham can still be justified. If they are prepared to change now, why were they so insistent that there was no alternative, in public meetings and in published material, before SAG challenged their assertions? And now that they have been shown to have exaggerated their requirements for the substation, what credence can be placed on their remaining case? The developers have seriously undermined their own reputation, and any statements they make in future will be regarded with deep scepticism by SAG and surely, too, by the planning authorities.

SAG remains convinced that there are more appropriate locations, and that there is more to the choice of Acton Bridge than Network Rail's requirement. The entire development should be reconsidered in the light of a holistic approach to electrical supply reinforcement in the Cheshire area, and more realistic forecasts of rail traffic. SAG is continuing to address these issues.

Back to introductory page

SAG's formal response documents have been printed, bound, and submitted to Vale Royal Borough Council, Cheshire County Council and the Secretary of State, and a set was placed in Weaverham Library for public inspection on Friday 20. February. Copies can be made available to supporters on request to any member of SAG, a local Parish Councillor, or by e-mail via the website, and a four-page summary has also been prepared for ease of reading and distribution.

The developers' Planning Applications were lodged with VRBC just before Christmas, imposing a very tight deadline for representations to be made, and the Action Group's volunteer members have been working night and day since then, investigating the environmental and technical aspects of the plans, and cooperating with the two Parish Councils in formulating their own replies to the Local Planning Authority. This marathon effort included several site visits, meetings with the planners and local interests, background research through the academic, engineering and environmental communities, and countless telephone calls and e-mails. Many willing helpers came forward with useful articles and contacts, and SAG is extremely grateful for their assistance. Detailed studies were also made of comparable sites elsewhere in the country, with very interesting results.

SAG felt it was vital to present a balanced argument, rather than a 'NIMBY' reaction. Public meetings were held with the developers, who were also invited to meet the Parish Councils in both villages, so that the issues could be debated thoroughly. The turnout to these meetings was exceptional, and showed the keen interest and deep concern within the local community. SAG members were even granted a meeting with the Strategic Rail Authority, to establish the basis for the development in the context of the West Coast Main Line Upgrade and traffic forecasts. This shows how seriously the central authorities are taking the case. No-one can doubt the thoroughness of the resulting documentation, which runs to a carefully-edited 75 pages of text and photographs

The arguments for and against the development, which even its proponents concede is in complete contravention of national and local Planning Guidance, will now be considered by VRBC, and also by Cheshire County Council as consultees. The massive replacement pylon, which SAG believes betrays a 'hidden agenda' for later expansion of the site, is also the subject of 'Section 37' consent, and is being vigorously opposed by SAG and many local people who have written to the Secretary of State. The new tower would be extremely conspicuous from all directions, standing on high ground and clearly visible from the surrounding villages and the Weaver Valley.

Objectors to the development have been writing to the Planning Officers and Councillors at VRBC, and also to Weaver Vale MP Mike Hall, who has stated his unequivocal support for the Substation Action Group, and has written to VRBC with his own list of six grounds for objection. There is still time for members of the public to express their views, and they are urged to do so as soon as possible.

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