Rail link planning dispute merely difference of opinion

Date: Saturday 21st January 2006

THE Local Government Ombudsman says a planning dispute between Eden District Council and the company aiming to reconstruct the Keswick to Penrith rail link is down to a “difference of opinion” and that there is no evidence of maladministration on the council’s part.

The ombudsman said the council had looked at material planning issues and the fact that it interpreted them in a different way was not maladministration.

CKP Railways complained about the council’s handling of a planning application for access roads to the industrial park at Flusco and the way permission was given for a road cutting through the railway trackbed in a way that would make reinstatement of the route more difficult and costly.

The rail campaigners claim that millions of pounds will be added to the cost of bringing the line back into operation as a result of Eden’s decision.

CKP was asked to demonstrate why the council’s process was unreasonable and supplied more than 200 documents, including engineering assessments and cost consequences for reconstruction if the road was built. It was the company’s contention that members of Eden’s planning committee did not have access to all the facts when they came to their decision.

Cedric Martindale, one of two directors of the rail company, said: “Closing the files does not constitute a proper judgement on whether the council acted correctly and raises even more questions, specifically whose job it is to ensure that Government planning policy guidance is abided by.”

He said the ombudman’s report had stated that policies set by council were not legal obligations and at best were publicly stated guidelines and intentions.

Despite the closure of the files, the rail company intends to press ahead with its aims to reopen the Keswick to Penrith line, where the last passenger train ran in April, 1966.

Mr. Martindale said the Highways Agency was spending £2.3 million on Junction 40 of the M6 at Penrith to improve traffic flows. Keswick could not cope with more traffic and making it easier to get there from Penrith could make the situation in the Lakeland town worse.