By Phil Marsh

Chinnor & Princes Risborough Railway volunteers served eviction notice by billion-pound company

Published: 3rd November 2016

Notice to quit could hit Santa Specials, Project Risborough and long-term westward extension plans

CEMEX the owners of the former Chinnor cement works land surrounding the Chinnor & Princes Risborough Railway (C&PRR) station at Chinnor have without warning, issued an eviction notice to the railway threatening to remove seven items of rolling stock. Cemex, which says it has annual sales of around a billion pounds, has given the 100% volunteer C&PRR just 10 working days to remove the vehicles or CEMEX have threatened to remove them to the Birmingham area.

The seven items of rolling stock on the disputed piece of track consists of a LMS, GWR Toad and Shark Brake vans, a Ferrywagon, an LMS Saloon chassis, a three-plank wagon and a mess and tool carriage. Discussions were held in the last week in October between the C&PRR and Cemex plus their Land Agent but there was no hint of any urgency to remove these vehicles. The volunteers were already looking at relocating them at the request of Cemex.

The meeting was described by the C&PRR as quite amicable but they were unexpectedly served with the eviction notice late on 31 October by Cemex’s Solicitors with a copy affixed to each of the seven vehicles.

At the initial meeting, Cemex offered to remove the vehicles and store them in the Birmingham area at their cost, for a period to be determined; or even to perhaps pay a sum towards their restoration. The railway is unsure if these offers are still available and the matter has been referred to their Solicitors.

Planning policy and property developers

It is not known why CEMEX has started the eviction process but it is thought likely that they wish to either build on land requiring road access on the west side of the former Watlington branch - or sell it to developers. The local South Oxfordshire Planning Policy clearly acknowledges the importance of the railway as in its Policy RUR 11 it states:

“Proposals for the redevelopment of the former Chinnor Cement Works will be permitted provided that they:

(vii) provide for the continued operation of the Chinnor/Princes Risborough railway line and protect the former line to the south west from development which may prejudice re-use in accordance with Policy T6;

Clause 9.30. “Any scheme should provide for the continued operation of the Chinnor/Princes Risborough railway line and not prejudice the future use of the disused part of the line to the south-west.

Project Risborough delay?

The C&PRR has now fulfilled its long-held ambition to run into Princes Risborough and a new platform there will be completed in the next six months or so. But a westwards extension to the M40 junction at Aston Rowant is also being planned – a fact acknowledged by the planners in the local planning policy. If this ambition is stymied because of CEMEX’s action, employment on the C&PRR and at a proposed light industrial unit at Aston Rowant will undoubtedly be hit.

C&PRR Chairman Danny Woodward said: “If the railway was to divert its resources into attempting to comply with the very tight timescale given by the Cemex Solicitors, to reconnect the track and remove these vehicles; it has the potential to jeopardise the running of some, or possibly all of our “Santa” services. Cemex was asked about this aspect but they did not address the question. The volunteers’ efforts would also have to be directed away from the Princes Risborough project which will delay construction of the new platform there.

Santa says:

Chinnor volunteer Professor Karol Sikora, a world renouned Cancer Specialist and regular C&PRR Santa Claus said: “I’ve been a volunteer on the line for over 20 years. Over the last 10 I’ve been Father Christmas on the Santa Specials. That little piece of track is vital to the smooth running and reloading of the Christmas trains which are hugely popular.

People come from far and wide and it gives me such pleasure to see the children laughing and enjoying themselves. The railway is a charity run by volunteers like us and has no spare cash. We just want to provide an enjoyable heritage experience for as many as possible so please let us keep our track.”

Cemex said:

CEMEX was asked why they were doing this given the C&PRR had used the section of track for over 25 years. They replied:

“We have been in discussions with the Chinnor and Princes Risborough railway concerning the 7 wagons which are currently on a relatively small piece of our land and we wish to be removed. This action will not change in any way the present circumstances and will not prejudice the proposed extension of the line to Aston Rowant. Our discussions with CPRR are continuing and we hope that a resolution can be reached.

"CEMEX supports railways and rail transportation - this year over 2 million tonnes aggregate have been transported by rail from quarries to locations through the country saving over 65,000 truck movements on busy roads. For rail enthusiasts the last remaining quarry train and 2 wagons which worked out of CEMEX's Barrington cement works was donated to Rocks by Rail, a local museum for the community to enjoy." Simon Barrett, Property Director

Warning to other railways

C&PRR Chairman Mr Woodward added that “this action is at odds with the understanding that we were given when we agreed to the Kiln Lakes (Chinnor Cement works) Development, that Rugby Cement (now Cemex) would not do anything that would interfere with the Operation of the Railway.

“I hope that our experiences will be a warning to other Heritage Railways not to trust these people and that the C&PRR is very concerned at this sudden aggressive stance taken by Cemex.

Mr Woodward also said that also of serious concern to the railway, is the comment made by the Cemex representative that the sale of the main parcel of land to the North West of the railway is dependent on the inclusion of the former railway trackbed, completely at odds to the Cemex statement

The C&PRR highlighted at the Public Inquiry regarding the proposal by Cemex to place two “crossings” over the trackbed which was withdrawn by Cemex at the time of the Inquiry. The current determination of Cemex to include this section of land in the sale to the Developer, gives the C&PRRA grave cause for concern as to what the real reason for this is.

This is a genuine David and Goliath battle. Rail.co.uk will be following it.

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