North Yorkshire County Council has pledged it will do everything possible to avoid triggering a public inquiry over Network Rail’s £11bn upgrade and electrification of the York to Leeds line.
The authority has estimated if it feels duty bound to object to plans to close three level crossings in the Church Fenton area, south of Tadcaster, and replace them with a road bridge it would lead to a “not inconsiderable delay of probably over a year” for the scheme as it would trigger a public inquiry.
The authority’s executive member for highways and transportation Councillor Keane Duncan said while the Transpennine route upgrade plan was a welcome investment there remained concerns over its impact in North Yorkshire.
Network Rail has applied to use powers under the Transport Works Act to close three level crossings in the Church Fenton area, south of Tadcaster, and replace them with a road bridge, accessed from Common Lane.
Although negotiations are ongoing between Network Rail and the council, the authority only has until September 8 to respond to a consultation over the scheme
Church Fenton councillor Andrew Lee said after 18 months of negotiation he “would like to think the authority could get together with Network Rail and iron out these differences” so the area’s residents got what they have been promised as soon as possible.
He said: “I am just concerned that we don’t have further delays because my understanding is that they want to start the work. I wouldn’t want it to be delayed due to a public inquiry.”
The council, which has reached a verbal agreement with Network Rail over ongoing maintenance costs it will face as a result of the changes, has stated it is keen to avoid triggering a public inquiry by maintaining an objection over the scheme as the hearing would delay the upgrade and prove costly to the public purse.
Coun Duncan said: “There are a number of issues which the county council is seeking to resolve, relating to highway design, construction, landscaping, drainage and flood risk.
“Officers have been working really closely with Network Rail, but timescales are very tight and it’s unlikely that sufficient progress will be made to resolve all the outstanding issues in time for the deadline for the response to the consultation on the order.
“It’s likely that we will be objecting to the proposals until we can resolve the outstanding issues. This could result in us having to make representations at a public inquiry.”
Although the council believes there is “a very low risk” Network Rail would not construct the new road and bridge to the specifications the authority wants, as the Transport Works Act powers would give them consent to build the scheme the authority is trying to establish details about the plans.
Senior officers have emphasised that even if the authority does lodge an objection over the plan it could later withdraw it before any hearing, ending the need for a public inquiry.