A lot of my time at the moment is occupied by an impending planning application in my village. It’s for a new railway station, and there is a large part of me that goes, yes! Public transport, accessible in the village, has got to be ‘a good thing’, right? Buses come and buses go, and the tenuous subsidy to run them through our village to the nearest towns where doctors and other services are located is again threatened. A railway station though… ok, so Beeching closed the last one but a reliable connection to Bristol and Gloucester has to be ‘a good thing’, right?
Thing is, nobody is going to invest £22M (current figure) in a new railway station for a village of two thousand residents. There’s no return on the money there. If you get a new railway station it’s not going to be Chigley. And this application isn’t.
The Parish Council identified this right from the start, but the higher tier organisations, South Gloucestershire Council and the West of England Combined Authority are presenting it as a benefit to the village. indeed, the village would benefit from rail access if it weren’t for the inevitable ‘other stuff’ that comes with it. There’s a magical flythrough video on YouTube that you can watch, which shows the delightful pastoral (and indeed pastel) image of a small modern station with automatic ticket machines, a lift inclusive pedestrian footbridge, electric charging points and (allegedly) secure cycle lockers. In the background you can see the original Brunel built railway station; the last one in near complete condition on the Midlands Line – that has no part to play in the design!
What the video doesn’t show so well is that the access road is currently a single width lane coming off the main B4058 Wotton Road leading up to farmland, lined with eighteenth century cottages, some of which face directly onto the road. This is to be widened by breaking through the green corridor on the west side and into the railside land to make two carriageways and a parking area. The impact of two way traffic on these old buildings can only be imagined. It also doesn’t show how an additional two hundred space car park is proposed at the top of the lane, breaking into an agricultural field where the currently landlocked landowner has previously offered up his land for housing.
Still, a railway station… got to be ‘a good thing’, right? but who will use this amazing new facility? Well the consultation markets this as a regional transport hub providing access for tens of thousands of residents in the south of Gloucestershire and the north of South Gloucestershire (a bit of a mouthful, but we sit on the county border), who will drive in to our village to use the station. A similar station up the line a bit at Cam and Dursley sets the example for us, with parking chaos and peak time gridlock on local roads. The sole main road through Charfield is a B-road, and already carries arterial traffic from Gloucestershire to the M5 motorway at junction 14 and back. You can see what’s coming, can’t you.
But the car park… that will solve the parking problem? Well it might if it were free to use… no decision on that has been made public yet (so much has not be made public, including why the middle of a village that has grown significantly since the old station closed in 1967 was chosen to host such a congesting design). No, no decision has yet been made public, but the relatively new station car park at Bristol Parkway costs about nine quid a day to use… and Charfield currently has almost no parking restrictions on its residential streets…
So, Charfield is already mired in pending housing applications (somewhere between eight hundred and fifteen hundred, on hold because the motorway junction is already overloaded and can take no more traffic) that were offered as evidence for a major expansion of the village which failed when the WECA Joint Spatial Strategy was found to be unsustainable and was withdrawn prior to inspection). A new station could well be used to strength the position of the developers, including the additional six hundred coincidentally made possible by the widening of Station Road. But it’s a short distance from there to double yellow lines, residents parking permits, towaway zones and constant daily gridlock as residents vie with incoming commuters to get in and out of the village.
Everything changes. The village has changed a lot in the twenty or so years we’ve been here. And in case anyone is already typing NIMBY let me fuel them up by stating my own house was a new-build infill when I bought it. Change isn’t a bad thing, but this change brings with it a lot of challenges that I don’t think the village will be able to manage. The primary school is already full as are the schools around it. Our closest secondary school is in another county, as are our dentists, doctors and other health services. And in the adjacent county housing expansion there is a clear threat as booming local catchments close off our access.
We need to reduce our reliance on the motor car. but that has to start in the urban environment where trams and metro stations can be embedded with a user base considerable enough to justify the investment. Out in the villages, for now, cars are the only viable means of getting point to point over any distance. Villages need employment and services nearby that residents can walk or cycle to, but at the moment nearly all the employment for Charfield residents is in the cities, and even the employment we have has an employee base that is largely city based (because the young folk want all the attributes of city life!).
The Parish Council like many other authorities has declared a Climate and Ecological Emergency, and maybe rail connectivity would be a good thing if it didn’t actually increase the movement of cars in and around the village. The video shows a few nice thriving saplings too, but glosses over the wildlife corridor in Station Road that connects the village through the rail lines to the countryside that will be grubbed up. More tarmac and less greenery, in times when heatwaves are ever more likely. It’s not easy being green…
Village life is terrific. I love it. But that’s what’s occupying a lot of my time at the moment.
(cover shot is a screen grab from the YouTube video ©acknowledged, Network Rail Design Delivery)