Cattle set to disappear from Hob Moor

The sight of cattle grazing on Hob Moor is likely to be absent this year after City of York Council confirmed that the area will be mown for a hay crop instead.

The council has also confirmed that there will be no cattle on Walmgate Stray either, though it is understood that cattle will be kept on Bootham and Monk Strays.

Cattle grazing on North Lane Pasture

Cllr Stephen Fenton was told the news in an e-mail from a council officer after rumours had circulated locally that cattle would not be returning to Hob Moor this year:

“With the loss of the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), the largest rural payment scheme providing financial support to the farming industry, farmers are increasingly having to diversify their operations to meet lost income. With the associated difficulties of managing stock on Hob Moor, the 24/7 availability of a nearby staff member is essential. However this will not be possible with the loss of BPS and the loss of income from the refused planning application.

“From a nature conservation point of view ideally we’d want both cutting and grazing, to better reduce the nutrient status of the land. The cutting and removal of vegetation in summer should keep bulky species in check and allow the more delicate species to flourish. Flowering heads are fewer on grazed land, so with the absence of cattle more wildflower seed could be set.”

The planning application referred to relates to a farm diversification project under which storage units would have been permitted to remain on a farm at Strensall, generating income for the tenant farmer. The application was however refused by members of the council’s Planning Committee.

In recent years Hob Moor has been mown as well as grazed, though there have been concerns from residents that mowing at the wrong times of the year could destroy the nests of any ground-nesting birds.

Cllr Fenton has asked council officers whether any attempt will be made to find a farmer who would like to keep cattle on Hob Moor this year and has asked for further information about the proposed mowing regime.

Cattle return to Hob Moor

Cattle have been reintroduced onto Hob Moor, initially restricted to North Lane pasture.

Cattle on North Lane pasture, 25 July 2022

The cattle had been removed from the moor in June after frequent escapes into nearby residential areas. These were as a result of City of York Council having failed to put in place promised mitigating measures – in the form of lengthened cattle grids – after removing the restrictive base plates from the barriers late last year.

The lengthened cattle grids have now been installed which will hopefully make it more difficult for cattle to escape.

Lengthened cattle grid

We understand that the plan is to leave the cattle on the moor for as long as possible, to try to get on top of the grazing that has been absent for the past eight weeks.

Knavesmire pond mystery resolved

Further to the recent story about the excavation of a small pond on the Knavesmire bordering Bracken Road, the mystery surrounding this work has been resolved.

It turns out that the work is being carried out by Froglife as part of their Yorkshire Tails of Amphibian Discovery (TOAD) project which seeks to reduce the huge decline of the UK’s common toads in Yorkshire and help replenish populations. It is funded through the Government’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund which is being delivered by the National Lottery Heritage Fund in partnership with Natural England and the Environment Agency.

This is a very worthy project which deserves support, and it is to be hoped that local residents and councillors will be kept informed of the plans for the site, with opportunities for community involvement.

Mystery surrounds Knavesmire pond excavation

Local councillors are investigating why a small pond on the Knavesmire has been excavated, leaving the site an unsightly mud bath. The site is off Bracken Road, next to Knavesmire Wood.

The pond in December 2021

Council officers have been asked if they know why this excavation work has been done. York Racecourse has confirmed that the excavation work was not done by them or at their request.

In spring and summer months the pond has been a haven for wildlife, providing a place for frogs to spawn.

The pond in May 2020

Moor Lane rail compound – drop-in session on 8 December

Network Rail have organised a drop-in session for local residents on Wednesday 8 December to discuss plans for a temporary compound on land next to the railway line off Moor Lane in Woodthorpe. The event will be held at York College from 4pm to 7pm. Local councillors were made aware of the event in an e-mail from Network Rail on Monday 6 December, though we understand that there has been a letter drop to households near the compound site.

Earlier this year councillors called on Network Rail to engage with local residents about the plans after they announced their plans to establish a compound on Moor Lane to support upgrade work on the line between York and Church Fenton. The initial plans would have seen the compound located 40 metres away from homes on Moor Lane. News of the plans led directly to the sale of a home falling through at the last minute, causing the residents considerable distress.

Cllr Stephen Fenton has repeatedly called on Network Rail to meaningfully engage with local residents

Cllr Stephen Fenton called on Network Rail to pause their plans and listen to the concerns expressed by local residents. Then in April Network Rail announced that they were proposing to move the compound further downfield to help reduce both visual and noise disturbance from the site.

In their latest e-mail to Cllr Fenton on 6 December, Network Rail said:

“This compound will be vital in enabling us to carry out major track improvement work as part of our Transpennine Route Upgrade, which will allow more frequent, more reliable, faster, greener trains between York, Leeds and Manchester. For a number of months our project team have been investigating what they can do to minimise disruption and intrusion for lineside neighbours and the local community.

Following feedback, we have now been able to move the site of the compound further down the field and additional shielding will be provided by a topsoil barrier. Both these mitigations will help reduce both visual and noise disturbance from the site to residents while we carry out these major upgrade works. We continue to work with City of York Council to obtain agreement to widen the main access gate to assist large vehicles to enter and exit the site.

It is planned that the compound will be active from 15 February 2022 until approximately July 2024. It will only be in operation when required, which will not be for the entirety of this period, but when in use the compound will be operating up to 24-hours a day, which will generate a low to moderate level of noise.

Below is a diagram showing the improved location and layout of the temporary compound. The machine stabling will be placed furthest away from the houses to reduce noise and disturbance. The compound will include:  

  • Temporary office 
  • Staff welfare facility and toilet units
  • Containers for storage   
  • Fuel bowser and generator
  • Car parking spaces”
Network Rail’s latest compound plans

Cllr Stephen Fenton commented “I’m pleased that Network Rail have organised this event to provide residents with an opportunity to quiz the Network Rail team about the plans and the impact that the compound is likely to have on neighbouring households. I remain concerned in particular about the proposed vehicular access arrangements onto Moor Lane – I note that Network Rail is in contact with council officers about this and would hope and expect there to be a thorough safety assessment undertaken.”

Network Rail backtrack on compound plans

Councillor Stephen Fenton has welcomed a decision by Network Rail to move a proposed compound further away from homes on Moor Lane.

In February, residents and councillors were shocked to receive notification that Network Rail planned to establish a compound on Moor Lane to support upgrade work on the line between York and Church Fenton until February 2024. Network Rail said that it would be used to provide access to the railway, to store materials and machinery and to house staff welfare facilities.

The initial plans would have seen the compound located 40 metres away from homes on Moor Lane. News of the plans led directly to the sale of a home falling through at the last minute, causing the residents considerable distress. Cllr Fenton called on Network Rail to pause their plans and listen to the concerns expressed by local residents.

Network Rail have now announced that they are proposing to move the compound further downfield to help reduce both visual and noise disturbance from the site. This move will place the site approximately 120 metres away from houses.

Network Rail have written to nearby residents with this information and have promised to host a community event via Microsoft Teams in the near future so that residents can find out more and ask any questions. No date has been set for work to begin on the site, but Network Rail have said that they will give residents at least one month’s notice.

Stephen commented:

“I am pleased that Network Rail have come up with a new proposal that will move the compound further way from homes on Moor Lane. It’s just a pity that this has come after two months of worry and stress for many affected residents, which could have been avoided if Network Rail has engaged with residents and local councillors earlier.

“I welcome the commitment to hold an engagement event, which will be important as there remain many unanswered questions around how highway safety will be managed on a very busy road, and what steps will be taken to minimise the nuisance to residents caused by the operation of the compound.”

Network Rail have also provided a Q&A on the compound plans.

Q1. Why have you chosen to put the proposed temporary compound where it is? 

Due to the location of work and where we need to access the track, we looked at the area between York and Dringhouses to identify a section of available land where we would cause the least disruption to surrounding neighbours and locate it away from as many houses as possible.

Once created, the proposed compound in Dringhouses will be one of several linked compounds between York to Church Fenton, which must all be on the same side of the tracks, closest to the two lines where our major work is being undertaken. These compounds have to be spaced around two kilometres apart to enable effective access to the track to carry out the work as efficiently as possible.

We will be doing all we can to make sure we cause the least disruption to neighbours which is why we propose moving the compound location further away from houses. This also includes closely monitoring noise, traffic and light, as well as strictly enforcing our staff on site to be mindful they are working in a residential area. We will continue to explore what further options are available to help reduce disruption from the site and will present these to you at the aforementioned community event.

Q2. How long will the proposed temporary compound be in place?

As yet, we have not established an exact start on-site-date. All we can say currently is that we anticipate it will open later this year and we aim to provide you with clarity around dates in due course. Once opened, the compound will stay in operation until approximately February 2024.

Q3. How far away from the houses is the proposed temporary compound? 

The closest house will be approximately 123 metres away from the operating compound. The machine stabling where all machinery will be stored has been placed furthest away from the houses, nearer to the track, to reduce noise and disturbance to residents. The new location further downfield means that the access road to get to it will be longer. Tree cover will mean the compound is less visually intrusive.  

Q4. How will the compound impact the traffic in the area and what studies have been undertaken? 

As part of our work on the revised compound, we will consider impacts on local roads and measures to manage traffic and any anticipated disruption. More information about the outputs of this assessment will be communicated in due course.

Q5. What level of noise should residents expect to hear?

Once the proposed compound is open, due to it being operational 24-hours a day, this will generate low-moderate noise. Overnight work will start to increase when we begin the piling work, but we do not have work schedules to share just yet. The Road Rail Access Point, once created, will be used regularly during the day and night. We will inform residents in advance of any noisy work due to take place and provide details as to what we are doing to minimise it.

Q6. How will worker behaviour be managed? 

Our teams will be briefed and are mindful that they will be working close to our neighbours and the disturbance this can cause. This includes, not running car/van engines, no shouting, no littering. We will be enforcing these measures as strictly as possible. 

Q7. Will lighting in the temporary compound come into my house? 

We propose that there will be five tower lights placed within the compound (to be used at night) and positioned to ensure they do not directly shine at any houses. Night-time task lighting will also be used for work on track and angled so it does not disturb our lineside neighbours when it is dark. 

Q8. What if there is damage to the road or verges?  

If there is any damage to the roads or verges that residents have concern about and have been caused by the work taking place, these will be address by the project team and investigated. 

Q9. Why did residents receive short notice about the temporary compound? 

The original letter about the compound was mailed approximately ten days prior to the initial planned date to open the compound on 01 March. We had to wait to send this out to allow for the conclusion of the landowner lease agreement but appreciate insufficient information and notice was provided.

Q10. What is a topsoil bund?

Topsoil is the upper, outermost layer of soil, usually the top 5–10 inches. It has the highest concentration of organic matter and therefore is a valuable material for farmers. We have to keep this topsoil on site, neatly stored as an earth bank or bund, and it will be returned to the land once the compound is closed. 

UPDATE – Network Rail agree to pause compound plans

Following Cllr Stephen Fenton’s meeting with representatives on 24 February, Network Rail have confirmed that they intend to pause their Moor Lane compound plans until 19 March to allow for meaningful engagement and dialogue with residents.

It is not clear what form this engagement will take, but this is a welcome move. We will share further information as and when it is available.

Network Rail to consider plea to pause Moor Lane compound plan

Cllr Stephen Fenton met with Network Rail representatives on 24 February to ask them to pause plans to establish a compound on land off Moor Lane until February 2024.

News of the proposed compound location came as a surprise to residents who received a letter from Network Rail on Friday 19 February. When asked whether the compound needed planning permission, Network Rail confirmed that it does not. They said:

“The Moor Lane construction compound benefits from deemed planning permission granted by virtue of Part 4, Class A of Schedule 2 of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015. Therefore, the compound does not require planning permission from the local planning authority in this instance.”

In response to the request for a pause, the Network Rail representatives at the meeting wouldn’t commit to this but said they would consider this request internally and come back with a response, hopefully in the next few days. Stephen said that he would be happy to meet Network Rail again at a time of their choosing.

Network Rail expressed a willingness to undertake more meaningful dialogue with local residents and Stephen suggested that the proposed pause would enable them to have these conversations and address issues of concern.

Network Rail committed to providing contact details for a senior colleague who will be able to liaise with the residents at 21 Moor Lane whose almost-completed house sale was scuppered by news of the compound plans.

During the meeting, Stephen was able to obtain some details of the proposed compound’s layout and operation.

  • The proposed compound is one of a number that Network Rail have established or are planning to establish to support the line upgrade work. Ideally they need to be no more than 1.5km apart. To the north of Moor Lane they will have a compound at the Model Railway site off North Lane, and to the south they will have a compound off Tadcaster Road near Copmanthorpe
  • The compounds all need to be on the same side of the tracks, as it is the two lines nearest to the field that are being upgraded. This is why Network Rail discounted using land near the new Askham Bar P&R site, as it would be on the ‘wrong side of the tracks’
  • Network Rail said that that they have been in touch with Yorkshire Wildlife Trust about impacts on Askham Bog
  • Network Rail is setting up a ‘logistics hub’ elsewhere at which as much of the ‘build’ work will be done as possible, with materials then being transported to their compounds
  • The compound surface will have a stone dressing and will be surrounded by a two-metre high metal fence
  • Trackside work will be done during daytime and at night, for which they will use ‘task lighting.’ This work will include ‘sheet piling’
  • The compound will be lit with ‘tower lights’ with hoods, multi-directional lighting will not be used
  • There’ll be parking on site for up to 15 cars
  • The Network Rail representatives at the meeting weren’t aware of any traffic safety impact assessment having been undertaken, but said they would come back on that point

Separately, Stephen has contacted the council’s Public Protection team to alert them to residents’ concerns about the potential for nuisance and disturbance to be caused by the compound’s operation.