Suffolk: Fears SnOasis complex could be derailed

THE developer behind the delayed SnOasis winter sports complex is seeking an assurance from the Government that a future operator of East Anglia’s rail network will be required to provide services to a new station.

As part of local planning consent, Onslow Suffolk and its backers are committed to invest in the local transport network and infrastructure around the Great Blakenham site.

The agreement with Mid Suffolk District Council dictates work can only begin on the resort itself when a new train station has been built and operating for six months.

But changes to national transport policy, and the awarding Dutch rail operator Abellio a short-term contract to manage Anglia’s rail network until the next franchise renewal in July 2014, have got developers looking for guarantees the station can be built.

Abellio recently beat Go-Ahead and Stagecoach to win a 29-month contract from February, taking over from National Express, until the next renewal of the franchise - expected to last 15 years.

Onslow Suffolk’s concerns are raised in the same week the company was given updated planning permission, complete with an additional five years leeway to get the project under way in phases.

SnOasis opponents last night accused developers of composing a “convenient cover story” for further delays, but Godfrey Spanner, the man behind Onslow Suffolk, said: “We can’t open Snoasis until a station has been operational for six months. We have to know that there will be a station.

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“It wouldn’t be a problem if we knew Abellio would be awarded the franchise and could commit to building, but we just don’t know.

“Understandably, our financiers will be unwilling to start upon a �300 million development in the vain hope that we will have a station.”

Both the Department for Transport and Abellio confirmed the commitment to build a station would feature in the bidding process for the new franchise. Ipswich MP Ben Gummer also stood by the Governement’s decision to award the short-term deal, saying: “This contract is very short but the next franchise renewal in July 2014 is due to last 15 years. The commitment to build a station could well be part of the next franchise.

“The Government is looking to improve the abysmal performance of the railways for commuters. The short contract is there to ensure a complicated process is managed properly and because of the Olympics next year.”

Last night sNOasis Concern chairman, Keith Willetts said: “It seems like a convenient cover story for further delays.

“Which franchise could refuse being paid to build a railway station? It sounds like more smoke and mirrors in a long-running saga.

“Godfrey Spanner points the finger at everyone but himself, giving more excuses for delays but never admitting it was just a daft idea.”