East West Rail has meetings with Bedford Borough Council just to tick a box and not to answer questions, Bedford’s mayor has said.
During Wednesday’s Full Council meeting (29 November), Bedford mayor, Tom Wootton “pushed back” on the claim that he had accepted East West Rail’s (EWR) explanation on valuing houses along its preferred route.
This followed a member of the public, Claire Burton, saying that the mayor’s statement on EWR’s Need to Sell Scheme had shown that he had accepted the explanation of the valuation process.
“Why is 13 per cent below several previously offered prices on the property acceptable?” Ms Burton asked.
The Conservative mayor replied: “I have challenged Beth West [EWR chief executive] and East West Rail as vigorously as I possibly can. It’s very difficult to challenge somebody who doesn’t want to be challenged, or sits in a room and smiles at you and won’t answer questions.
“I have found it some of the most challenging meetings I’ve ever been across when I have had to sit across from Beth West and ask the same question over and over and over again. And I get evasion and just avoidance the whole time.
“They’re doing this to tick the box to say that they’ve come and met me. They’re not doing this to answer questions.
“Now the market price thing is, I think, a sheer disgrace. Had they been serious they would have been above the market price and given everybody a proper price and got them on their way and everybody would be happy.
“I have a real problem with East West Rail and their attitude to residents and what they’re doing.
“They are not a company that I would call a bunch of gentlemen, they are working in a very underhand way, shall we put it that way? I find them very difficult to deal with, so my heart goes out to you.”
He added that he had raised these issues on “a number of occasions” and would continue to do so.
An East West Railway Company spokesperson said: “We appreciate the challenges for homeowners impacted by East West Rail.
“Our Need to Sell Property Scheme is recognised by the Department for Transport as a robust, transparent, and fair way of helping property owners who need to sell their property but are unable to do so, other than at a blighted value, due to East West Rail.
“It was launched in May, which is earlier in the process than usual for a project like East West Rail as we were keen to provide property owners with as much support as we could.
“Our aim is to ensure anyone in this position accepted onto the scheme is offered the unblighted market value for their home, which is why we carry out at least two valuations provided by independent RICS-registered valuers. The valuations are also peer reviewed to ensure RICS guidance is met.
“The NTS Team is available to help if a homeowner has any questions on the valuations”
by John Guinn
Local Democracy Reporter
Update: This article was updated on 4 December 2023 at 16:13 to provide further clarification in EWR’s response.