Bitterness, anger, threats and allegations in the air as council debates its East West Rail route response

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Cllr Graeme Coombes
Cllr Graeme Coombes, leader of the Bedford Conservative Group

A last ditch Conservative bid to get Bedford Borough Council to lobby for the Government to think again over a controversial new railway north of the town has been overwhelmingly rejected.

A four-hour meeting was full of anger, recrimination, claim and counter claim as the full Bedford Council debated their response to a consultation over which northern route to take, and how to stop 100 houses being demolished.

Deputy mayor Cllr Charles Royden (Lib Dem, Brickhill) said he reported threats made to him to the police as the build up to Wednesday’s online clash became bitter.

In a clash with Lib Dem mayor Dave Hodgson, Conservative leader, Cllr Graeme Coombes (Wilshamstead) said he would never again believe a word his opponent said.

Cllr Coombes said: “The mayor called me to a meeting in 2019 where he stated to me clearly that Wixams would be under threat and delayed for years if we didn’t get a northern route for East West Rail.

“I took him for his word and have consistently supported a northern route on that basis.”

But the mayor, he said had used “scare tactics” to get his own agenda.

“I no longer trust the mayor.

“His dragging Wixams into the discussion has more to do with his guttersnipe politics than any genuine concern that Wixams Station might be lost.

“He is a charlatan and a fraud, disingenuous, dishonest and being deceitful.”

He added: “I no longer believe the mayor has been truthful with me over Wixams being under threat by East West Rail taking a southern route.”

“I will never believe a word he says again.”

Lib Dem Mayor Dave Hodgson said: “I’m really sorry that I am no longer believed by some councillors.

“I find that upsetting because I thought the working relationship was good.”

Other Lib Dem councillors insisted there is a threat that Wixams station will not go ahead if there is delay to East West Rail.

A Conservative-sponsored motion argued that the choice of Route E to exit Bedford to the north was “preceded by a fundamentally flawed consultation.”

This, they claimed, did not consider alternatives, was not open with residents, and the current consultation does not provide the information to make an informed choice.

Cllr Michael Headley (Lib Dem, Putnoe) said calls to reconsider a southern route had used “muddle and misinformation” to persuade residents to support their case.

“There is no fantasy southern route,” he said.

Instead, Cllr Headley said the council should concentrate on proposals that were on the table from the Government and East West Rail rather trying to go back a stage.

The Conservative motion was rejected by 30 votes to 11.

The council’s position is to lobby to “maximise the benefits while minimising the impacts”.

Its consultation response calls for a “no demolition option” to safeguard  homes, and a better compensation package for those at risk of compulsory purchase.

A motion to support this was approved by 28 votes to seven and five abstentions.

However, in a statement this morning, Conservative Councillor for Great Barford, Cllr Stephen Moon, continued their argument.

“For our residents to have confidence in this Council and the policy adopted they need to know that we have had full information about the economic benefits and disbenefits of the various options, the numbers of households likely to be adversely affected, environmental impact assessments and similar matters,” he said.

“That essential work, which should have underpinned the Council’s policy, has quite simply not been done. The Council has without even a pretence at public scrutiny adopted a detailed policy that, because it affects so many, should at all times have been open.”

The public consultation closes next Wednsday (June 9).

by David Tooley Local Democracy Reporter
with additional reporting by Paul Hutchinson.

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