Disbelief as EWR chief claims most people support new rail route

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Beth West, chief executive of East West Rail Co. Image: EWR
Beth West, chief executive of East West Rail Co. Image: EWR

Campaigners have reacted in disbelief after claims made by the boss of East West Rail Company (EWR Co) said, “We know that over 70% of local residents along the route want EWR.”

The claim came last week (14 September), as we reported fully on the reaction to campaigners delivering a ‘declaration of opposition’ to Route E to the Rail minister.

The declaration has been signed by local MPs, parliamentary candidates, district, borough and county councillors, parish councils and environmental and other campaign groups, to the Rail minister.

Read: Campaign groups deliver East West Rail ‘rejection’ letter to Minister

Now, as people recognised World Car Free Day yesterday (Friday), Beth West, CEO of the company behind the EWR project reiterated that the line would bring “Bedfordshire’s businesses and residents new opportunities.”

“People I talk to in Bedford tell me they are fed up with the volume of traffic on the roads and are crying out for greener local transport, which is exactly what EWR will provide,” she said.

“Over 70% of local people recognise the need for new public transport in the area – and I believe that by providing a fast, reliable, sustainable option, we’ll be helping people connect with the things they really care about.”

EWR Co did not provide sources for the claims that “70% of local residents along the route want EWR” or that “70% of local people recognise the need for new public transport in the area”.

However, they did provide information about how EWR would cut travel times and, by extension, cars using the roads between Bedford and Cambridge

In a new video uploaded this week, EWR details how a journey from Bedford to Cambridge can take 75 minutes by car during peak hours, or a 90-minute bus ride.

They say the same destination would take EWR just 35 minutes.

Commenting on further benefits of the controversial route, a spokesperson added that the project also “includes significant investment in two new stations – one serving Bedford Hospital, enhancing accessibility, and a revitalised Bedford main station.”

They also said the impact of the route would also support the rejuvenation of Bedford’s high street, “creating opportunities for all”.

This was backed up by James Burchell of Tellon Capital who own the Harpur Centre in Bedford.

“The new East West Rail line will bring Bedfordshire’s businesses and residents new opportunities and access for their customers and clients to leisure destinations such as the recently renovated Harpur Centre or to sample the town’s cafes and restaurants,” he said.

Disbelief

Campaigners have reacted in disbelief at the claims.

One said they believed the stats to be “misinformation” and “unrepresentative of the views of Bedford residents and local communities”. Another called them “dubious”.

Speaking at a recent Westminster Hall debate, Richard Fuller MP (North East Bedfordshire, Conservative) also criticised route E and its comparison to the county’s roads.

“The route chosen is so full of twists and turns and ups and downs, it surely competes with what is our country’s bendiest road.”

He later told the Bedford Independent, “The BFare Declaration, delivered to the Rail Minister, shows him the widespread and growing opposition to the plans for East West Rail…”

Organisers of the declaration, BFARe and Cambridge Approaches say the declaration “demonstrates growing and united opposition to the proposals”.

Others criticised the lack of recent comment from Bedford Borough Mayor, Tom Wootton.

The Mayor, who has said he is not opposed to EWR but against Route E, made a pre-election promise to the people of Bedford Borough that he would be “working tirelessly” and “use my voice to make sure that the people of our great Borough are heard and accounted for.”

While it’s believed the Mayor has attended meetings with locals about EWR, having not seen comments from the Mayor on the issue more widely or in local media for some time, one Bedfordian asked on social media, “Is [he] on a sabbatical?”

EWR Co says they are continuing to host information events and encourage people to find out more about the project. They have also published a series of ‘Your Questions Answered’ videos, which can be found on their website.