After 2 months of campaigning, Sandplace residents finally met with senior representatives from Network Rail on Thursday 31 March regarding the controversial proposed installation of a 25 metre mast and large equipment cabin at Sandplace Station on the Looe Valley Line. Residents had taken their arguments to MP Sheryl Murray, raised questions to Parliament, the Department for Transport, the Office of Rail Regulatioin, the Rail Safety Standards Board and Cornwall Council arguing that the site was inappropriate due to road safety issues created by the equipment cabin and proposed mast and the significant visual impact of the communications infrastructure, spoiling the hamlet of Sandplace designated an ‘Area of Great Landscape Value’.
Senior Representatives of Network Rail, after inspecting the site, decided to immediately remove the cabin and abandon plans to site the 25 metre mast at Sandplace Station. They have now conceded that the location was inappropriate, acknowledging both the road safety issue and the detrimental impact on the hamlet of Sandplace and the heritage appearance of Sandplace Station. The unique topography of the Looe Valley presents key challenges for Network Rail in maintaining clear radio frequency along its meandering contours for the purposes of installing their GSMR communications system. The system has been mandated by UK legislation for all passenger routes, in spite of the EU directive naming the Looe Valley Line as an exception under Interoperability legislation. After rejecting the use of alternative communications technologies put forward by residents, it was accepted that the only viable resolution was to install smaller masts in more concealed locations to significantly reduce visual impact.
Network Rail are now re evaluating their alternative site locations for smaller masts and will also be pioneering the use of much smaller equipment cabins on the Looe Valley Line in order to alleviate the concerns of all local residents in the area. In accordance with their Permitted Developments Rights, they will notify Cornwall Council Planning of the new sites and have given an undertaking to consult with any potentially affected parties. We are pleased Network Rail is now working with us to arrive at an outcome acceptable to all local residents. “
It was a case of “Now you see it – Now you don’t!’ – a Network Rail ground crew arrived the following day, early on Friday morning (April Fool’s Day!) to remove the equipment cabin. The ground crew commented that this is the first time they were aware of such a step being undertaken by Network Rail during the GSMR project.
After much heart ache and anxiety, the residents of Sandplace are relieved to have achieved a successful outcome, demonstrating a clear example of localism and the community in action.