Bedford mayor criticised after local councillors not invited to EWR meeting

Mayor Tom Wootton
Mayor Tom Wootton. Image: Bedford Borough Council

Bedford Borough Mayor Tom Wotton (Conservative) has been criticised after councillors were not invited to a public meeting about East West Rail (EWR) next week, despite locals being told they are going to be there.

Harpur councillors Colleen Atkins and Zara Layne (Labour) were made aware of a letter delivered to people in their ward yesterday (Wednesday) which states that all local Councillors will be in attendance at the meeting taking place on Tuesday (18 July).

However, they say that the Mayor’s office had not contacted them so they were unaware of the meeting.

Councillor Zara Layne said: “Councillor Atkins, Mohammad Yasin MP and I had contacted the Mayor offering to meet and work constructively on issues related to EWR.

“In response, we were told the Mayor had a plan and he would be in contact. If his plan is to let residents down by playing party politics then he should know that we will not stand by and let that happen.

“The mayor could have contacted us to agree a meeting date and how we could ensure that the community is fully involved in the meeting, but he did not.

“We remain open to working constructively with the Mayor to put residents first and we sincerely hope that the Mayor will re-evaluate his approach.”

EWR letter to Harpur Ward residents from Mayor Tom Wootton about an EWR public meeting in July 2023. Click/Tap image for the full version.
EWR letter to Harpur Ward residents from Mayor Tom Wootton about an EWR public meeting in July 2023. Click/Tap image for the full version.

A spokesperson for Bedford Borough has told the Bedford Independent that the letter was not meant to be sent out before Councillors were spoken to, calling it “a genuine administrative error”.

However, Cllr Atkins says the Mayor must do better, especially as transparency over EWR was a main part of his election manifesto.

“Residents whose homes could be demolished don’t want games, they want clear communication and answers,” she said.

“That starts with the Mayor having the courtesy to discuss arrangements for a public meeting with Councillors to ensure that everyone is able to attend. Stop playing games Mr. Mayor, it’s time to step up and make public service your priority.”

The council spokesperson said that the Mayor does remain “committed” to EWR transparency and that the minutes of the mayor’s last meeting with EWR, on 19 May, are now available online.

But, Cllr Layne says that’s not enough and the mayor must work with councillors of all political parties across all affected wards if Bedfordians are going to have faith the council is working in their best interests.

“The Mayor said during his election campaign that he wanted transparency on East West Rail but he has failed his own test,” she added.

“By setting up a public meeting and stating local Councillors would be attending, without informing us as councillors or consulting us as to our availability, does naturally lead to speculation as to whether this is a self-serving Party political move designed to make councillors look bad for not attending a meeting they did not know about.”

Bedford Borough Council has confirmed Harpur Ward councillors have now been officially invited to the meeting.

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