Railway company left diesel spill, holes, and damage to hedges in ongoing 'unsafe' use of road at Heberdens Farm, say Idsworth residents

Residents are speaking out about a railway company’s ‘disrespectful’ and ‘disruptive’ use of a road next to their homes.

Wednesday, 10th March 2021, 12:00 pm
Updated Saturday, 13th March 2021, 2:28 pm

Neighbours say that Network Rail has created health and safety issues and caused harm to the countryside at Heberdens Farm in Idsworth.

They point to hedges damaged by heavy machinery, holes in the roads caused by vehicles, and a large amount of litter left in the nearby verges by workers.

Network Rail has used this access point, which is opposite St Hubert’s Church in Old Idsworth, since the bridleway and signal box were moved 20 years ago.

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Equipment in the lay-by near St Hubert's Church. Picture: Emily Turner

Locals say that up until February 2020, the work carried out from this site had been minimal.

Since that time, however, Network Rail has been using the site to bring machinery required to repair the railway between Rowlands Castle and Petersfield.

Gemma Fisk, a partner in her family’s farm business at Heberdens Farm, lives next to the access site. Now an arable farm, her family business has been running since 1960 when her grandfather bought the land.

Gemma says that Network Rail has been bringing machinery into the area nearly three in every four weekends out of the year.

Some of the damage done by machinery to the hedges on the side of the access road. Picture: Emily Turner

She said: ‘The road outside the church and to the access point, is a single carriageway country road.

‘To bring in their equipment they completely block the road, sometimes for hours at a time, meaning no traffic, particularly no emergency service vehicles can get through.

‘They do not get road closure and diversion procedures in place, so road users continue to try to use the road and cannot get through.’

A lay-by, which is maintained by St Hubert’s so that visitors can visit the 11th century church, is used by the Network Rail workers for loading, unloading and manoeuvring machinery and equipment.

The gates leading to the railway at the end of the access road. Picture: Emily Turner

Gemma said: ‘They have damaged the layby and all the surrounding verges with the large machinery.

‘On one occasion in September they punched a hole into the middle of the road, which they just left, which meant anyone could have had a serious accident.

‘The area is not designed and not safe for the type of work they are carrying out.’

On weekends, Old Idsworth sees lots of visitors come to see the church and walk the surrounding footpaths and bridleways.

Water collecting in holes in the road residents say were created by heavy machinery. Picture: Emily Turner

Residents say they want to encourage people to enjoy the church and countryside, but the machinery in the lay-by means that there is nowhere for visitors to park.

She has raised the issues with Network Rail, but after a particularly bad weekend a significant diesel spill was left behind along with rubbish in the lay-by and the surrounding verges, she chose to escalate the complaint.

She included South Downs National Park and the Rowlands Castle and Finchdean parish council into the complaint.

Gemma said: ‘I had a positive response from Network Rail, who apologised for the issues caused and advised they would not use this access site for large machinery again.

‘However, five days after the email stating no more large machinery, we had three megarailers turn up to the site, with no change to health and safety procedures.’

A large megarailer is still parked in the church lay-by.

More damage to hedges outside residents' homes caused by heavy machinery on the road. Picture: Emily Turner

Gemma added: ‘We do what we can to maintain the countryside, so to have the rail come down with the litter they leave, the diesel they spilled, it’s clear they don’t have any real respect for the countryside here.

‘It’s been quite disruptive, it’s ongoing and really quite draining’.

Carol Ashworth and her husband Stuart, Gemma’s neighbours, are also concerned.

Carol said: ‘It’s such a shame to have such a beautiful place disturbed by the machinery.

‘It breaks the natural borders so flooding becomes an issue, the road becomes completely flooded.

‘Individually the rail staff are lovely, you can speak to them and ask them to move their vehicles.’

The couple say that they see a large amount of litter such as energy drinks cans left in the lay-by.

This litter and diesel spillage are of particular concern to Carol, as she operates her dog training business, The Walkabout Way, from a field directly next to the access road.

Carol added: ‘It’s a general inconvenience and no one seems to know what is going on.

‘The lights from the machinery go on at night, sometimes blue flashing lights. They’re out there from 11pm to 6am.

‘It’s been really difficult, and the problem is ongoing’.

A Network Rail spokesperson said: ‘We’re aware of the complaints regarding the access point for the railway and are investigating.

‘As part of that investigation, a senior member of our maintenance team will be inspecting work due to take place this weekend.’

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