Network Rail has apologised after being caught using land it sold a decade ago to dump hundreds of tonnes of ballast.
A row broke out between property developer Yorkshire Land and Network Rail, which has been accused of continuing to use the site and backtracking on an agreement between lawyers to resolve the problem.
Land which once accommodated sidings alongside Penistone railway station was sold by the firm in 2007, which made almost £500,000 when the site was auctioned to Harrogate based developers Yorkshire Land.
Since then it has been set aside as the potential site for a new transport interchange for the town, a use Yorkshire Land finds acceptable and something South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive has explored, though delays with finalising a wider development strategy for Barnsley means the future of the site remains uncertain at this stage and has prevented development.
However, despite the change of ownership, Network Rail staff have been accused of using the site for storage and lineside access – leaving around 500 tonnes of railway ballast tipped on the site at one stage.
Yorkshire Land had also found the site had been targeted by fly-tippers after gates, which had been secured with padlocks using a universal Network Rail key had been left open, said company owner Steven Green.
Now he has attempted to clear a section of the site close to the railway station of brambles and rubbish to improve its appearance, but has found electricity cables – apparently connected with installations on the railway – on the site, meaning it would be dangerous to use machines to ‘scrape’ the site.
But his requests for action from Network Rail have been met with silence, he said, and a previous extended exchange of letters between his solicitor and Network Rail’s lawyers had also made no progress, despite him being “ninety seven per cent sure” an agreement to pay back rent and to stop using the site had been agreed during face to face discussions.
Following the purchase of the site, which sold for several times the auction guide price, Mr Green was told several gates allowing access onto the railway would be welded up, but that had never happened.
After he fitted his own locks, he found they had also been sawn off on one visit, he said.
“We spent more than a year communicating with them,” said Mr Green.
“They admitted this had been done wrongly and that some back rent should be paid.
“We met on site and fleshed something out, we were 97 per cent of the way there. It has been going on for I don’t know how long,” he said.
A Network Rail spokesperson said: “When Network Rail sells land, we retain rights to use it for access so that we can carry out maintenance, improvement and safety-critical work to the railway. There are many different teams within Network Rail and unfortunately, there have been instances where workers have accessed the railway at the wrong point. We apologise for this and have rebriefed our teams accordingly.
“We are currently in discussions with the land owner in regards to ballast which was left on their land and would like to apologise for any inconvenience which this has caused.”The site has road access from Lairds Way in Penistone and Mr Green said SYPTE’s interest was in creating a park and ride scheme, along with a bus interchange to take those vehicles out of Penistone town centre, where they are blamed for causing congestion while parked.
A ‘hopper’ service would be used to get passengers into the town centre.
However, he has more ambitions plans for the site and would like to see a cafe and toilets created, which would be beneficial both to Penistone’s goal of improving its tourism economy and in providing a more comfortable environment for residents. He also secured historic stonework from the entrance of the old Penistone Grammar School when that was replaced with a modern building, which he hopes could be incorporated into a new interchange.
“It is possible there could even be something like a wine bar, to bring some activity into the area in the evenings, to make it a destination for people,” he said.
“That would make it more inviting for people getting off trains at night because they’d be walking into an area where there were other people.”
Penistone Town Council has previously supported the idea of a transport interchange and the site is the only suitable land available in the vicinity of the railway station.
It has been offered by Yorkshire Land as part of a wider package of developments in the district, but at present that has not been pursued by Barnsley Council. Their development plans for the next 15 years are currently being examined by a planning inspector to assess whether they are deemed suitable.