Bedford Borough mayor “appalled” as local leaders react to East West rail announcement

Cllr Tom Wootton standing along Bedford's River Great Ouse with the town bridge in the background.
Mayor Tom Wootton

Bedford Borough mayor, Tom Wootton (Conservative) has said he is “appalled” after it was announced East West Rail’s route will be a six-track option and 65 local homes will now be demolished to make way for the Oxford to Cambridge line.

The government announced an update on the proposed East West Railway, with Bedford Borough Council not being given a chance to see the update ahead of it going public.

Mayor Tom Wootton has added his thoughts on the announcement, he says: “I’m appalled at the decision taken by East West Rail and the impact that it’s going to have on residents in Bedford town and the northern villages.

“Following the announcement, I will be working tirelessly to urge EWR to reconsider their decision and take into account the people that they are affecting.

“With a public consultation on the way, I pledge to use my voice to make sure that the people of our great borough are heard and accounted for.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for Bedford Borough Council said they will now need time to review the details of the proposals to “better understand the implications for the people of Bedford Borough”.

The announcement today has been shaped by consultations the East West Rail Company (EWRCo) undertook in 2021.

In its response to the 2021 consultation, Bedford Borough Council said they looked for an “outcome that would capitalise upon the opportunities presented by EWR, whilst minimising potential environmental and community disruption dis-benefits.”

BFARe and Protect Poets protesters at a recent 'protest' walk last month, at the proposed northern alignment of the East West Rail route. Image: BFARe/Facebook
BFARe and Protect Poets protesters at a’protest’ walk at the proposed northern alignment of the East West Rail route. Image: BFARe/Facebook

Bedford Borough Council says that after today’s announcement, they will undertake a detailed review of the updated proposals to see how the potential benefits and dis-benefits have been affected by the chosen route.

However, the Council says it is disappointed that EWR was unable to provide a map that clearly details the selected route and the true extent of its impact.

Letters will be sent today (Friday) by EWR to local residents in the Poets area of Bedford, updating them on the details of this decision.

The EWR engagement team will also be hosting a series of ‘drop-in’ events for local people too.

Read: EWR drop-in sessions announced after news of six-track route and 65 homes to be demolished

The next stage of the project will be a statutory consultation on this announcement, which will not start until 2024.

Meanwhile, Bedford and Kempston MP Mohammad Yasin (Labour) has also slammed the decision to demolish homes.

“I have been clear from the start that whilst I supported East West Rail in principle, I would oppose a route that includes the demolition of homes,” he said.

“EWR said that while they accepted that the four-track proposal was feasible they have chosen the option that in their view better serves the wider rail line. This is unnecessary and ignores the views of local residents and elected representatives.

“Now that EWR have confirmed a route with demolitions I have written to the rail minister and alongside Harpur Councillors Colleen Atkins and Zara Layne we have written to East West Rail to confirm that we are strongly opposed to their proposal.

“It is cowardly and unfair for the Government to make the announcement the day after Parliament went into recess for a week to avoid scrutiny, but they cannot hide from their responsibilities to our residents.

“I have therefore submitted an urgent question to ensure that all Members of Parliament can have their say as soon as possible. I would urge all residents to make their views known in the statutory consultation.

“It is important that we are all united in getting the best possible outcome for Bedford.”

Mohammad Yasin MP for Bedford and Kempston speaking in the House of Commons
Mohammad Yasin MP for Bedford and Kempston speaking in the House of Commons

Ward Councillors representing some of those affected have also vowed to continue fighting the demolition of homes and say they are they have received today’s announcement with “anger and dismay”.

Harpur Councillor Zara Layne (Labour) said: “People have a right to feel safe in their homes and I am strongly opposing East West Rail’s proposal. Alongside my Ward colleague Cllr Atkins and Mohammad Yasin MP we have written today to EWR to put on record our opposition to their plans.”

Councillor Colleen Atkins (Harpur/Labour) added: “The news is devastating. It’s devastating for residents whose homes are to be lost and is devastating for the whole Poets’ community. It’s the last thing any of us wanted to hear.

“I have said I would oppose EWR if it involved the demolition of homes in Poets and I totally stand by that and will be fighting this all the way.”

Keep Local news Alive in Bedfordshire