Bedford Borough Council “owes it to the people of the borough” to carry out an assessment on East West Rail’s plans, a meeting has heard.
Jon Shortland, the council’s chief officer for planning, infrastructure and economic growth told the Environment and Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee last night (8 June) that the transport policy team is working to analyse East West Rail’s (EWR) recent update.
“The mayor has asked us to specifically look at their assessment of the northern route through Poets and across the country to the East Coast Mainline in comparison to potential alternative routes,” he said.
“This work will feed into our response to the EWR company’s statutory consultation which is scheduled for the first half of 2024,” he said.
Cllr Jonathan Abbott (LibDem, Clapham & Oakley) asked if the final decision on the EWR route will be taken by the mayor or by central government.
“Are we spending money on looking at something which actually will look very nice, but there’s a fait accompli coming down from central government on us already,” he asked.
Mr Shortland replied that the decision will taken by the East West Rail Company and the government.
“To get their permission in place, it’s sort of like a super planning permission, they have to go through something called a development consent order process,” he explained.
“As part of that they have to undertake a statutory consultation on their proposals, which they’ve said they will do in the first half of next year,” he said.
“And the council is able, and probably should whatever the case, put forward its views to that statutory consultation.
“In terms of what the council’s view will be, we’ve been very clear over the past period since the last non statutory consultation that we don’t believe that six tracks are necessary north of Bedford station.
“We believe that four tracks can easily cope with the amount of traffic that is likely to be using the lines,” he said.
“East West Rail had said in their route update announcement that they still believe six is the right answer, what they haven’t done yet is show us their working of how they got to that position.
“The mayor and I met with the minister for transport on Tuesday night and he has promised that there will be full transparency and all those workings will be made available to us to assess.
“And I think we owe to the people of the borough to carry out that assessment and work out whether we think East West Rail has got it right or wrong.
“They possibly have it wrong, they’ve been known to get things wrong before, and our involvement in previous consultations led to certain changes in their way of working at that point,” he said.
“So there’s nothing to say that that couldn’t happen again, so I don’t believe there’s anything wrong in reviewing the working that East West Rail have carried out both on four or six tracks north of the station, or indeed a north or south route.
“So over the next six months, we want to test what they’ve done and see whether they come up with the right answer.
“And I think that’s the right and proper thing to do,” he said.
by John Guinn
Local Democracy Reporter