A NEW £130m Rail service from Oxford to London Marylebone is not being approved by a planning inspector because of bats in Wolvercot Tunnel.

The risk of harming bats and great crested newts has presented a major obstacle to the Evergreen 3 scheme to create a fast Oxford-Bicester-London service.

Commuters had been looking forward to a new service within three years following a public inquiry into the scheme.

But we have learnt that the inspector has withheld approval from Chiltern Railways’ scheme because of the impact on the bats who use Wolvercot tunnel on their travels around North Oxford and Wolvercote.

The inspector said the bats also used the tunnel for roosts, commuting and foraging. And he warned more trains travelling at higher speed would put bats at risk and make the tunnel unusable.

Chiltern Railways had proposed a new light system to be installed for the first time in the UK to make sure bats get a warning about trains rumbling through. But the inspector says there is no evidence that it had been used successfully elsewhere.

The inspector also said that no scheme had been agreed by Chiltern Railways and Natural England to mitigate harm that would be caused to a nearby habitat of great crested newts.

With the inspector’s report still to be published, Transport Secretary Justine Greening has stepped in, urging Chiltern and Natural England to find a speedy solution.

A Department of Transport letter sent parties at the inquiry said: “We are not in a position to decide whether to accept the inspector’s recommendations and invite Chiltern and Natural England to advise us of progress in their discussions since the inquiry on necessary licences in respect of bats and great crested newts, which would also be affected by the scheme.”

The letter said if measures to protect these species were agreed the Transport Secretary would “be minded to approve the scheme”. Chiltern Railways and Natural England were given four weeks to respond.

Chiltern Railways expressed confidence that the issue could be quickly resolved. Allan Dare, strategic development manager, said: “The Secretary of State is satisfied that there is a compelling need to increase rail capacity between Oxford and London and that the scheme will bring substantial transportation benefits.

“Discussions with Natural England are now at an advanced stage; we hope to complete these shortly.”

Jonathan Gittos, of the Engage Oxford group, which raised residents’ concerns about noise and vibrations from the new speed service, said: “This has come as a great surprise. It seems a completely mad world when the inspector seems to pay more attention to the needs of bats and newts than people.”

But he said some of the residents’ noise concerns seemed to have been taken on board by the inspector. The report will impose planning conditions to ensure “noise and vibrations are kept to acceptable limits.