Rail Central plan near Northampton would see people forced to sell their homes

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“These aren’t buildings we’re talking about. This is my children’s whole lives being demolished.”

So says Caroline Cater, one of several mums whose families live in the former railway cottages at the edge of Blisworth which apparently fall within the proposed site of a gigantic rail depot.

Strictly speaking, they really are ‘just houses’, bricks and mortar and really quite miniscule on a map.

Miniscule, that is, compared to the planned depot, the size of 100 football pitches and which will join Northampton to a village that is currently two miles away. But Caroline is frustrated that people in favour of the 8,000 jobs on offer don’t link the houses to dozens of people’s lives.

“This isn’t just our house,” she says, “it’s our home. It is where our children go to school and where their friends are. People commenting on Facebook are going on like we’d just be losing a nice view. They’d be able to take everything.

“The anger and the hurt...”

Over-dramatic? Perhaps not when you consider a scenario where the whole street – and more besides – would have to find houses in a single village all at the same time.

And the sense of injustice has only been heightened by the fact that most of the village knew about the plans before they did.

The Hunter family have lived on the street for 10 years, extending their house and sending their children to nearby schools.

But they found out about the Rail Central plan by chance from a campaigner.

Lynn Hunter – who has a five-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son – said: “Someone had heard about a public meeting and was dropping leaflets through doors when I happened to bump into him.

“I was completely devastated.”

Developer Ashfield Land has so far had no personal contact with Lynn or husband Jeff, even though there have been two public meetings where maps were displayed showing the Hunters’ house within the proposed site. Meetings are set up for next month where each household gets 30 minutes to find out what the plan means for them.

If that sounds like the developer is dictating to the affected homeowners, that is how many of them feel.

Even though Ashfield Land does not own all the plots required, the type of scheme is thought so important by the Government that, if approved by a minister, land needed but not acquired will be compulsorily purchased.

James Digby, from Rail Central, said: “We are right at the start of the process. Everyone with an interest in property and land affected will be informed and involved.”

Rumours were circulating this week that Ashfield Land doesn’t need the homes.

But that scenario would be an even worse prospect for some.

One resident of the railway cottages said: “If it goes ahead and they don’t buy us out then there really is no hope. Nobobody else will pay for my house with half a kilometre of warehouse for a view.”

It is clear that, after spending Christmas blissfully unaware, they now feel suddenly trapped. “We are in limbo now,” Lynn says, “you can’t plan for the future.

“We can’t sell, we daren’t even decorate.

“It’s made us feel like our own home doesn’t belong to us any more.”

Given that the first phase of the depot will not be up and running until 2021, the wait for an answer could be an agonisingly long one.

An action group and politicians are scrambling to find angles to argue against it. But, still reeling from the shock, residents feel their fate may be already sealed.

Caroline said: “We’ll fight it but whatever happens will be done to us, with or without our consent.”


Developers decline an invitation to host second meeting for residents

Developers behind the rail depot have declined an invitation to attend a public meeting with villagers.

Ashfield Land gave a presentation at Blisworth Village Hall on January 4 but so many people turned up that many were locked out.

And, with no public address system, those who managed to get in struggled to hear what the firm’s representative had to say.

However, despite the firm agreeing on the night that a rescheduled meeting at a bigger venue was a good idea, an invitation by the No Rail Interchange action group has been declined.

Mark Redding, who is leading the action group, said: “We went to Ashfield Land following discussion between our group and told them there was demand for a second public meeting.

“But they quite clearly don’t want to put themselves through that and don’t feel able to answer the type of questions asked at the first meeting. I’d like the chance for everyone to say how they feel [in person], but that won’t be happening.”

Ashfield Land said it preferred to inform people by way of leaflets, ​which will be delivered to residential and Royal Mail-registered addresses in Blisworth, Milton Malsor and Roade by next week.

​Ben Copithorne, who presented the Rail Central information at the January 4 meeting, said residents were seeking answers that Ashfield Land did not have, as the application was not yet complete.

As a result, the company did not believe a second meeting would achieve much. He said : “The proposals are at a very early stage and we’ll be having detailed public consultation in the spring as well as working locally to make sure we’re keeping people updated.”