CAMPAIGNERS against a series of giant rail communication masts claimed victory last night after a national rail firm changed its development plans.
Network Rail had planned to put up five 29m lattice masts in Tynedale along the Newcastle to Carlisle line, a move that caused uproar among residents.
But now, after a campaign by protest group Storm and backed by The Journal, the firm has made major changes to the plans, including both the size and location of the masts.
The group also say that as a result of their protest, Network Rail will be changing the way it consults on future developments.
The Journal had already scored a major success for the campaign in June when, after revealing the protesters’ concerns, Network Rail postponed their plans, immediately halting work on the development pending further consultation.
Steve Gibbon lives just yards from one of the original planned sites in Bardon Mill and is chairman of the protest group.
He said: “We were very pleased with the plans that Network Rail came back with – they exceeded our expectations.
“They have clearly listened to our protests and all the letters and phone calls they have had.”
As a result of the protest, four of the five locations have been changed – the fifth, in Hexham, was not contentious – and instead of the 29m lattice masts, Network Rail will put up 15m tall monopoles.
Mr Gibbon added: “I am really pleased that they have changed the design of the masts – it is a significant reduction in size and the way they will look.
“As a result of this they are changing their consultation process nationally. We have had a local success and hopefully that will help other people across the country.
“We will now probably cease all protest and simply monitor the situation to completion.
“We very much appreciate the support of everyone locally – particularly The Journal whose coverage has been extensive.”
Last night, James and Heather Connolly, whose home was yards from one of the planned sites, said they were delighted.
Heather said: “I think it is good news and I think we have to appreciate that they have listened and changed things to the benefit of everybody. I was quite surprised by how much they changed the plans.”
Helen Winter, Tynedale Council’s director of planning, said: “Storm have worked in a very professional and effective manner and I am pleased that we have been able to assist them in achieving what appears to be a satisfactory outcome for all parties.”
A spokesman for Network Rail said the firm was pleased to have reached a compromise. She said: “We have taken on board the comments that we have had and juggled them as much as we can to get the best compromise. They are broadly in the same areas – they have to be for engineering reasons – but we have moved them to less sensitive areas.”
October 2006 – Network Rail informs Tynedale Council of its plans to erect a series of the masts across the area as part of a £1.2bn plan to allow drivers to communicate with signallers.
May 31 2007 – The Journal reports how residents, including villagers in Bardon Mill and Riding Mill, have been informed of the imminent plans via a Network Rail mail drop to their homes.
June 1 – Under pressure Network Rail announces that it is to postpone the plans, immediately halting work on the development, to allow for further consultation.
June 5 – The first meeting of Storm protest group set up to oppose the masts, attended by more than 100 people.
June/July – MP Peter Atkinson holds a series of meetings with Network Rail representatives to discuss the issue.
August 16 – Network Rail unveils heavily amended plans, welcomed by Storm.
Row started with a leaflet
THE row over the 29m rail masts erupted in May when Network Rail delivered leaflets to houses close to potential sites informing residents of plans to put up the masts. The masts, which will be used by train drivers to communicate with signallers, caused uproar among residents because of their visual impact and health concerns.
After The Journal highlighted the issue, Network Rail did a dramatic U-turn, postponing the work and offering to carry out consultation with worried locals.
Although Network Rail did consult with Tynedale Council, it did not have to go through the full planning process as such developments are exempt
under the Town and Country Planning Order 1995.
Peter Atkinson, MP for Hexham, also raised the issue several times in Parliament.
Speaking after the compromise was reached, he said: “Network Rail decided to go back to the drawing board because they saw what they were proposing was going to cause major problems.
“I think they behaved extremely well once they realised they had messed up the consultation process.”
Mr Atkinson also praised the work of the protest group.
He said: “Effectively Network Rail has scrapped the entire thing and the landscape of a lot of England will benefit from what they [the protestors] have done.”