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ANGER AT SELL-OFF OF RAIL LAND WORTH£174M

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Transport campaigners plan to write to John Prescott, the environment secretary, to protest at plans for a multi-mi...
Transport campaigners plan to write to John Prescott, the environment secretary, to protest at plans for a multi-million pound auction of more than 1,000 pieces of former British Rail land.

The Independent (p15) reports that the British Railways Board has issued a private list of the first 600 items it wants to sell from a portfolio of 1,400 sites across the country.

But campaigners are angry that only 200 of the 1,400 properties have been set aside for possible transport use and claim many of the others make up crucial parts of local transport plans. Selling such sites will undermine plans to integrate trains with other forms of transport, they say.

The list includes station car parks, goods yards, former stations and signal boxes, playing fields, viaducts, disused railway line and even a row of shops.

Stephen Joseph, director of the pressure group Transport 2000, described the sell-off as 'daft'. He said: 'The government wants to promote integrated transport with more people driving and cycling to train stations. But by the time councils start work on this they will find that all of the land has been flogged off for office blocks.'

David Begg, the recently-appointed head of the government's commission on integrated transport, was briefed about the plan at a conference on Friday. The sale will put him in a difficult position because he will be reluctant to criticise ministers.

The list of 600 sites has been sent to councils, transport operators and pressure groups. They now have 60 days to come up with plans to bring the other sites back into use before the list is released to the open market.

A series of auctions will be held around the country in the spring, at which property developers will be able to bid for the land. A spokesman for the British Railways Board, which is mandated to dispose of unwanted land, said: 'We are charged with getting best value for the properties because they are government properties.'

But he said transport groups could appeal to Mr Prescott if they were outbid on the grounds that there were wider policy reasons why the land should be retained for transport uses.

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