Bedford MP describes meeting with rail minister as “most disappointing” of his parliamentary career

Rail minister, Wendy Morton MP

Bedford and Kempston MP, Mohammad Yasin (Labour) has described his meeting this week with the rail minister, Wendy Morton, as the most disappointing he’s had since becoming an MP, saying she appeared to know very little about the East West Rail project.

Mr Yasin met with Wendy Morton MP for an update on the East West Rail project, following a question he asked in the House of Commons on 17 March.

His question was: “There are conflicting views on East West Rail as a project to improve connectivity, but the one thing we all agree on in Bedford is that the delayed consultation response, the potential demolition of homes and concerns about the environment are taking a toll on residents.

“We need clarity, so will the Minister tell us whether the DFT is backtracking on the project?

“Will he instruct East West Rail to urgently publish its proposals?”

At the time, the rail minister, who was present in the chamber, allowed Robert Courts a DFT Under-Secretary to answer the question, but he batted the question back to the rail minister, saying: “I will ask the Rail Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton) to respond in detail to the concerns that the hon. Gentleman has raised as soon as possible.”

Although Ms Morton did not respond in detail she did offer to meet with Mr Yasin on 12 May.

Concerned constituents and unanswered questions

Following a meeting with residents in the Poets area, Mr Yasin prepared a number of questions and raised concerns from constituents who are anxious about potential compulsory purchase, blight and compensation and pollution.

“I was seeking an update on the status of the EWR project but despite having plenty of time to prepare for the meeting, the rail minister appeared to know very little about one of the biggest infrastructure project plans in her in-tray,” said Mr Yasin.

“To say it was the most disappointing meeting I’ve had since becoming an MP would be an understatement.

“Ms Morton couldn’t answer any of my questions about the project, about why there were ongoing delays to the consultation response, about whether the line would be electrified from day one, about why the Development Consent order (DCO) has been delayed.”

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 recent ‘protest’ walk last month, at the proposed northern alignment of the East West Rail route. Image: BFARe/Facebook

Mr Yasin raised the concerns of constituents over the first consultation but said the rail minister “didn’t seem to even be aware of the preferred route E.”

“The one thing Ms Morton did confirm was that the project was going ahead, but because the outcome of the DFT’s business case review has not yet been published, I’m not confident the Department have a clue what’s going on.”

Mr Yasin asked the rail minister to consider the profound implications the ongoing delays were having on residents impacted by the threat of compulsory purchase and blight.

“The preferred route announcement has triggered search returns which render homes unsellable, but there is no prospect of blight pay-outs until the Development Consent order is published, which is now not expected until 2023.

“While the Minister said she regretted people were in this position, she offered no reassurances that the DFT were going to do anything about it.”

No confidence

Ms Morton ended the meeting by asking Mr Yasin to write up his questions in a letter.

“While of course, I will write to her, the whole point of the ministerial meeting was to get some meaningful answers,” he said.

“Instead, I’m left with more questions than answers, with no confidence the rail minister is across her brief.”