Decision due over £130m rail scheme

A train in Bicester Town Station
A train in Bicester Town Station

A £130million scheme to create a fast new Oxford-London rail link via Bicester got back on track as a public inquiry resumed this week.

The inquiry, which has rumbled on since November 2010, was reopened over concerns for the welfare of bats living in Wolvercote Tunnel.

Wendlebury Gate Stables has also expressed fears over the impact of noise on its horses and students using its riding school.

The inquiry is due to end on June 13, and the planning inspector’s recommendations could be published in the autumn.

Chris Wright, chairman of the Oxon and Bucks Rail Action Committee, has campaigned for improvements to local services for many years.

He said: “Bats live in a lot of rail tunnels and live fairly happily with trains. They’ve still got problems with the noise in Wendlebury, and I can understand that.

“But if this doesn’t go ahead then East West Rail can’t go ahead. It depends on it.”

Rail Minister Theresa Villiers paid a visit to Bicester at the end of last year to view plans for the East West Rail scheme, which would create a new line linking Bicester with Aylesbury, Milton Keynes and Bedford.

Bicester Town Station will be redeveloped as part of the plans.

Mr Wright added: “My own personal view is the whole country is going to be held up by some quite obscure objections. I don’t know why some of these issues haven’t been dealt with previously. We know what we’ve got to do with the bats, and I’d have thought that the stable’s concerns could have been fairly easily solved.”

Plans looked like they were progressing earlier this year after Chiltern Railways and Natural England agreed a range of measures to protect bats, including a traffic light system to warn them of approaching trains.

But Secretary of State for Transport Justine Greening reopened the inquiry on Tuesday to give the bats’ welfare more consideration.

Chiltern Railways says it will re-evaluate the project schedule once it gets the go-ahead. The new line is set to open in 2014.

Rob Brighouse, managing director of Chiltern Railways, said: “Our proposed link between Oxford and London will bring huge benefits to Oxford and Bicester, and the planned parkway station in north Oxford at Water Eaton will allow passengers to avoid congestion in the city centre.”

He said he welcomed the opportunity to further demonstrate the measures taken to deal with the issues raised, and said Chiltern Railways looked forward to getting final permission in the near future.