Use of muddy railway underpass as bus route for 5,000 homes slammed by residents
PUBLISHED: 17:25 16 January 2019
Residents have described the decision by developers behind 5,000 new homes in a Norfolk town to have a bus route run down a muddy track barely wide enough to drive down as ridiculous.
Joe Blunt’s Lane in Thetford, which is the site boundary for the town’s Sustainable Urban Extension, could be home to a bus route serving the new estate if a bridge is not built further north across the railway.
But no decision will be made until up to 70pc of the 5,000 homes have already been built.
Used by dog walkers and school children walking home from the nearby Thetford Academy, the underpass under the railway is muddy, rocky, and no more than six metres wide.
The path is not accessible by car and is only used by people on foot or on bicycles.
Residents hit out at the possibility it could be used as a bus route, saying it would ruin a wildlife haven and remove a safe, traffic-free route home for teenagers.
Delwin Rolfe, who lives near to the lane on Hawthorn Walk, said any potential use of the underpass as a bus route was ridiculous.
He said: “The school children all come through this way on their bikes and walking, what are they going to do? It is going to be a nightmare. The infrastructure is not there.
“I think it’s ridiculous, I don’t think they have thought it through enough.”
A design brief for the bus route shows a small pedestrian walkway and a mocked up bus underneath the underpass.
Mark Robinson, Breckland district councillor for the area and nearby resident, said he would speak against the proposal for the bus route to use Joe Blunt’s Lane if it came to council again.
He said: “That is a through route for kids going through the town. Bringing any sort of traffic into what is a traditional route for people would be wrong and it is used as a recreational space as well and I would not want to lose that.
“I don’t think we should lose it. It is also home to wildlife and it is a direct route for kids travelling east to west and I would be loath to lose safe routes.”
Under the legally binding section 106 agreement between promoters of the land, Pigeon, and Breckland District Council, Joe Blunt’s Lane will have to be used as a bus route if a new bridge over the railway closer to the A11 for bus traffic is not built.
The agreement states the lane will be used if the council confirms in writing the new bridge is “not deliverable if all third party land and/or consents were not readily available on normal commercially prudent terms.”
Breckland admitted there was no agreed definition on what is meant by “not deliverable” or “normal commercially prudent terms” within the Section 106 agreement with the developer.
The council added that if Pigeon believe the bridge to be not viable and a risk to the scheme as a whole, the council would “take a view on the basis of the evidence presented to it and policies in place at the time the evidence is presented.”
This could mean Joe Blunt’s Lane is used if the finances are not right on any plans for the new bus bridge, or if an agreement or permission is not granted by Network Rail, who own the railway infrastructure over which any new bridge would be built.
Conditions set by the council for the design and specification of the bus route through Joe Blunt’s Lane have already been met, with a design brief and details on ‘facilitation’ waved through by the council’s planning department.
Any decision on the viability of the new bus bridge does not have to be officially made until up to 70pc of the homes in phase three of development, or 2,655 of the 5,000 houses, are occupied.
The path of the alternative bus route under the railway through Joe Blunt’s Lane was waved through when reserved matters for the first phase of development was approved by the Breckland planning committee in 2017.
A spokesman for Breckland District Council said discussions over the bus bridge were held with Network Rail and the principle of using the underpass was established at the time of the original planning application.
He said: “It is anticipated that further discussions with Network Rail and Developers will be held prior to that trigger to discuss the provision of the bus bridge in commercial terms.
“There are no other alternatives for the bus route approved as part of the application and agreed through the section 106 agreement other than using Joe Blunt’s Lane.”