The Department for Transport (DfT) and East West Rail Co (EWRco) have announced this morning the corridor alignment for the controversial Oxford to Cambridge East West Rail project.
The corridor will follow along the Route E option chosen in 2021, heading north from Bedford station and into Tempsford as it leaves Bedford Borough.
65 homes will be demolished to make way for the six-track route.
East West rail’s route will enter Bedford at a ‘new’ railway station for Bedford Hospital close to where the current St John’s Station is, and then leave north of Bedford’s mainline station on Ashburnham Road.
The latest updates and comments are below…
28 May 2023
In an email sent on 27 May 2023, at 11:03, Cllr Ben Foley (Green, Greyfriars) also added his concern about the impact of a six-track line on Bedfoirdian living nearby.
“The fact that the Government’s agency East West Rail (EWR) still are unwilling to narrow down at all the site they are looking at for Bedford Station is infuriating,” he said.
“There was no need to threaten homes in Ashburnham Road with demolition in the first place and I’m angry that they haven’t taken this opportunity to narrow the area of consideration.
“It is very worrying that they appear to have rejected the idea of an up-fast platform at Bedford station, something the town vitally needs.
“I’m also amazed that, even though there is enough space for six tracks without demolishing any homes, they are still persisting in plans to demolish so many homes north of Bedford station. I do not believe that they have done anything like enough to minimise the impact on homes north of Bedford station.”
26 May 2023
Liberal Democrat Group Leader, Councillor Henry Vann has said: “The Mayor’s response to the Government’s EWR proposal is letting local residents down.
“He fails to even mention the impact in Bedford of the demolitions and his intention to ‘urge’ EWR to reconsider simply isn’t good enough.
“He should be committing now to put in an objection to the plans if they aren’t changed – six tracks is simply not required. And it is not good enough to fudge things with a council review of the details – it needs clear leadership, now.”
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.”
Grassroots campaign group Bedford for a Reconsultaion (BFARe) have been campaigning against Route E since it was chosen in 2021.
A spokesperson for BFARe’s communications team has said of today’s announcement, “Bedford Borough residents are devastated by the East West Rail announcement to proceed with destructive Route E. Route E Alignment 1 destroys Bedford homes, bridges, roads and runs directly through and very close to many Bedford Borough wards, villages and businesses.
“East West Rail has not produced a business case. Route E has purely been selected to support massive greenbelt housing developments in Tempsford, Great Barford and Dennybrook, where NE Bedfordshire already suffers three times more than the UK’s average level of new housing [according to ONS data].
“It is untenable that all Borough residents must continue to suffer this level of growth. Without this level of new housing, East West Rail has no purpose as their BCR has never been above 1.0.
“Bedford Borough Council did not have a clear democratic mandate to promote Route E to East West Rail. Borough Councillors did not engage with their constituents during the route selection process and the vote to support Route E was never put to a full council vote.
“Route E is the wrong choice for our community and BFARe will continue to fight for a better route for Bedford.”
They add that they comment further, once our technical team has had time to read through all of the Route Alignment documentation.
Former Portfolio Holder for Rail, Cllr Michael Headley (Liberal Democrats, Putnoe) has added his thoughts, “The Conservative government have shown yet again that they don’t care about the best outcome for Bedford and local residents.
“From the outset, we have opposed the need for extra tracks north of Bedford and shown clearly that they are not necessary. This is a decision that the government are choosing to make not one they have to. Even Network Rail said last year that they should look again at this.
“We call on the Mayor to continue to oppose these extra tracks, as we have done throughout, and provide the robust data to prove they aren’t necessary. The council needs to formally object to the Development Consent Order if these plans aren’t changed. We need robust arguments being put forward now not election slogans from the Mayor.”
He added “It is also crucial that the line is electrified from day one and the opportunity to remodel Bedford station isn’t lost.
“The new fast-line platform is crucial for getting Bedford back onto the intercity map. Rail connectivity for Bedford brings a boost to our local economy, but we must make sure the local impact isn’t ignored by a Conservative government with their own agenda.”
Beth West, CEO, EWR Co, has commented on the announcement and the demolition of homes.
In a statement to the media, Ms West said that “people in Bedford deserve access to faster and more reliable east-west public transport,” she called EWR a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to open up new journeys, cut travel times, ease congestion on local roads and bring more jobs within reach of people living locally.”
Ms West says that the project will deliver, “quick, reliable public transport linking Bedford with Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Oxford”, also claiming that the project “continues to have widespread local support”. The announcement today has “been shaped by the hundreds of conversations we’ve had with local people, businesses and other stakeholders and the thousands of responses we received to our most recent public consultation.”
Specifically addressing the plans meaning 65 homes will be demolished, she added, “By adding two additional tracks to the Midland Mainline tracks north of Bedford, EWR will be able to serve Bedford town centre and deliver faster and more reliable east-west public transport services that will unlock new opportunities for people in Bedford and the surrounding areas.
“We recognise that these additional tracks would affect some people’s homes and we’ve been determined to reduce this impact. By challenging the design, we’ve found ways to significantly reduce the number of properties affected in this area and are today publishing new guidance and support for landowners.”
In addition to the homes that are earmarked for demolition, EWR has launched a ‘Need to Sell’ property scheme guide for those who believe their homes, businesses or land will be affected by the new rail line. Details of the scheme can be found here.
Fears that people will lose their homes have been confirmed.
- Six tracks confirmed
- 65 homes north of Bedford Station (a reduction from 97) will be demolished
Labour’s Bedford and Kempston MP, Mohammad Yasin has slammed the announcement Bedfordians will lose their 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.”
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.”
East West Rail have outlined various “benefits” the route will bring, including:
- Unlocking growth potential in life sciences between Oxford and Cambridge
Investment in Bedford’s two stations to “boost town’s regeneration” – including a new station serving Bedford Hospital
- 35-minute train journeys from Bedford to Cambridge
- Three-fold increase in services on upgraded Marston Vale Line
They also highlight “support for affected landowners” through a Need to Sell Property Scheme, which has been developed following a public consultation.
There is no further information, as yet, as to which landowners they are referring to or if this includes the demolition of homes in the poet’s area of Bedford.
Local campaign group BFARe, who has campaigned against Route E since the plans were first announced have said, “BFARe firmly believe East West Rail Route E is the worst route to serve our community. It is not fit for purpose and is a waste of taxpayer money. It is another HS2.
“The construction process will destroy our homes, communities, and roads. Our countryside will never be the same. We will lose ancient woodlands and wildlife. The destroyed biodiversity will not be recovered in our lifetime.”
They say they will continue fighting the project.
More is expected to come from EWR and the DfT in the coming minutes.
Bedford Borough’s elected mayor, Tom Wootton (Conservative) is also expected to comment as is Bedford and Kempston MP Mohammad Yasin (Labour), both have criticised the timing of today’s announcement and communication with Bedfordians who will be affected by the route, including those who may lose their homes.
This is a breaking news story and will be updated as more information becomes available.