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Proposed Substation for Network Rail

Substation Action Group

Campaign Timeline Page

SAG Logo by Tony Daffern

This page was inspired by the article in the Northwich Chronicle of 24. November 2004 - see our news media page for details.
A brief history of the Substation Action Group and its Campaign

The historic villages of Acton Bridge and Weaverham are separated by the Green Belt, but united in cherishing it. Local residents, their two Parish Councils, Weaverham Trust and the Substation Action Group are delighted that Vale Royal Borough Council's Planning Committee voted unanimously on Tuesday, 16th November 2004 to support their Officer's recommendation, and refuse permission for the Planning Applications from National Grid and Network Rail. Acceptance would have permitted development on an industrial scale, destroying forever the openness and amenity of this beautiful area, and setting a catastrophic precedent for future such outrages within the North Cheshire Green Belt.

National Grid and Network Rail presented a Public Information Event in Weaverham on 18.-19. September 2003 about their "Proposed Substation at Weaverham". Many felt that this description, and the location of the event, were intended to draw attention away from the impact the development would have on Acton Bridge, even for those who live some distance from it. If you lived in Acton Bridge, and you saw that an event was to be held in Weaverham to discuss a "proposed substation at Weaverham", you might well assume that this was of no immediate importance to you, and decide not to visit the event.

The Substation Action Group was formally inaugurated in Acton Bridge Parish Room on Tuesday 21. October 2003. It was drawn from members of Acton Bridge, Weaverham and Hartford Parish Councils, and the Weaverham Trust ; Vale Royal Borough Councillors representing Acton Bridge and Weaverham; and concerned residents to coordinate opposition to the scheme. Officers were elected, and a Technical Committee was formed, to research the arguments being put forward by National Grid and Network Rail in support of their claimed need for the substation to be in this area at all, and in this location in particular.

Mike Hall MP has been an active and welcome supporter of our campaign. He secured an Adjournment Debate on Budget Day, and the substation issue was raised with, and answered by, the Minister of State at the Department for Transport, Dr Kim Howells, who memorably described Station Road as "the most convenient spot for a substation".

A public meeting was held in Acton Bridge Parish Room on Friday 14. November, at which people from Acton Bridge, Weaverham and surrounding villages discussed the proposed substation and make their views known. Information boards were assembled to display maps and photographs.

The developers submitted their formal applications and supporting material to Vale Royal Borough and the Parish Councils immediately before Christmas. Delivering 200 pages of detailed text, maps and tables so close to the festival, and with very few working days available before the deadline for objections was, in the view of many, a cynical ploy to minimise opposition to the scheme.

SAG met representatives of the Strategic Rail Authority and NR on 21. January 2004 to discuss the background to the proposed development, in particular their forecasts of rail traffic growth and power requirements. The SRA promised to provide answers to a number of questions, and details of the traffic model used in their forecasts, but this information has never been made available.

SAG's campaign reached a milestone in mid-February 2004 : its three formal response documents were printed, bound, and submitted to Vale Royal Borough Council, and a set placed in Weaverham Library for public inspection. A four-page summary was also produced for wider readership.

The developers suddenly asked to withdraw their Applications from consideration at Cheshire County Council's regular Environmental Strategic Panel on 10. March 2004, in order to make some significant changes. After further delays for the publication of the developers' Supplementary Report, the Panel later swallowed NGT's revised arguments wholesale, a fact admitted by their own Officer during their meeting on 15. July. This was extremely disappointing, in view of the urgent efforts which SAG and its supporters had made to provide CCC with a balanced view.

SAG held a Public Meeting on 20. July 2004 in Acton Bridge Parish Rooms. Suggestions from the floor included more publicity for the site itself, and the idea of a petition against the development. Cllr Nora Dolphin asked to be the first signatory, and the petition achieved over 2,100 signatures by the time it was handed to Richard Hallows, VRBC's Director of Social and Community Services in late October. Cllr Nora Dolphin and Weaver Vale MP Mike Hall, and the Chairmen of Acton Bridge and Weaverham Parish Councils, the Weaverham Trust, and SAG were present. This is thought to be one of the largest petitions ever presented to VRBC, and represents a very high turnout of the local electorate.

SAG worked all through the summer to evaluate the June 2004 Supplementary Report from NGT, and the special technical report which VRBC commissioned from IPSA Power Limited. To ensure that its own appraisal of the two reports was as well-informed as possible, SAG held direct meetings with IPSA to clarify their terms of reference and suggest additional lines of enquiry. SAG was also generously assisted by members of the academic and engineering communities in its analysis of the geophysical and electrical data, making our final report to Vale Royal as comprehensive and authoritative as it could be.

Strenuous efforts were made to ensure that the submissions of SAG and the Parish Councils were delivered to VRBC within the 21-day deadline. It was very irritating that National Grid failed to apply the same diligence to their own response, and the Planning Committee hearing was eventually postponed to 16. November.

There was a full meeting of the Substation Action Group in Acton Bridge Parish Rooms on Thursday 23. September 2004. The Agenda included a review of campaign progress and our formal submissions, and decisions about further actions to carry the arguments forward. To draw attention to the location and scale of the proposed site, members of SAG, with the full support of the landowner and another local farmer, erected bright yellow banners to show just how far the substation complex would stretch along Station Road, ruining the view and destroying forever the rural nature of these communities. The banners were inaugurated at a special site meeting on Saturday 9. October, which was attended by Cllr Nora Dolphin and Mike Hall MP.

Vale Royal's Planning Manager, Mr Colin Williams, completed and published his report to the Members on 11. November. This report recommended that the Applications should be refused, on the grounds that "the proposed works would by reason of their size, scale, siting and design be harmful to the openness of the North Cheshire Green Belt for which no very special circumstances have been justified to relax the strong presumption against inappropriate development in Green Belt".

On Tuesday, 16th November 2004, Vale Royal Borough Council's Planning Committee met, and the packed chamber was addressed by representatives of SAG and the two Parish Councils, and of course by the Applicants. After hearing concerted opposition to the proposals from a number of Borough Councillors (and with absolutely none speaking in favour) the Committee voted unanimously to support their Officer's recommendation, and refused permission for all three Planning Applications from National Grid and Network Rail.

In March 2005, Local press reports suggested that Network Rail had not yet decided whether to appeal. An NR spokeswoman, Lesia Kozlowsky, was 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".

The Northwich Chronicle of 18. May 2005 devoted most of its front page to the campaign, with the banner headline "SUBSTATION IS DEFEATED". Editor Paul Brown reported that Network Rail had announced that they and National Grid would not appeal against Vale Royal Borough Council's unanimous refusal of their planning applications. Assuming that the Network Rail spokesman was acting authoritatively, it does seem that our long campaign has succeeded.

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