East West Rail protest planned for Mayor’s Climate Change Event

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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'protest' walk at the proposed northern alignment of the East West Rail route. Image: BFARe/Facebook

Bedfordians campaigning against the proposed East West Rail route through north Bedfordshire will be hosting a protest to coincide with the Mayor’s Climate Change Event this weekend.

The event, which the Mayor says is to encourage residents and businesses to become greener, takes place on Saturday, 26 March in the Harpur Suite and Harpur Square between 10am and 4pm.

Peaceful protests, organised by BFARe and Protect Poets, have now also been organised for 11am and 2pm in Harpur Square on the same day.

BFARe, a campaign group formed by Parish Councillors, Bedford Borough Councillors and concerned residents believe East West Rail’s 2019 public consultation was flawed.

They believe the resulting preferred route is not the best east-west/Oxford to Cambridge rail route for Bedford.

The protest has been jointly organised with Protect Poets’ (Save Our Homes) who are fighting East West Rail’s proposed six-track railway travelling through and to the north of Bedford Midland station.

This would cut through Bedford’s Poets’ area, demolishing neighbourhood homes and businesses.

Read: Campaigners call EWR meeting “a tick-box exercise” but Bedford and Kempston MP says it was “constructive”

They say the Mayor’s Climate Change Event is purely serving his “rainbows and butterflies greenwashing agenda” and they were refused a chance to appear at the event officially, forcing them to protest.

Details of homes under threat in the Poets Area of Bedford
Details of homes under threat in the Poets Area of Bedford

Didn’t fit the criteria

“BFARe sought to have a stand in the Mayor’s green event to engage with residents on the environmental impact of East West Railway for Bedford,” said Mike Barlow from BFARe.

“We believe it is important that residents understand the detrimental impact on air quality, congestion, wildlife, biodiversity, flooding, etc.

“We think it is important that residents are informed of these issues and especially the massive negative carbon impact of the selected route.

“These are things that the Mayor and Cllr Headley are not sharing with residents and they have blocked BFARe from openly discussing it because the negative impacts do not fit with their ‘rainbows and butterflies’ greenwashing agenda.

“The Mayor would rather block public access to balanced information by refusing BFARe access to a stand.”

Promoting his event, Bedford Borough’s Mayor Dave Hodgson said: “Bedford Borough Council is ambitious about tackling climate change.

“We’ve been clear about our plans to become carbon neutral by 2030 and want to play a positive role in facilitating local businesses and residents to reduce their carbon emissions too.

“The event is one of the many steps we’re taking to engage with people in the borough to ensure they can access relevant and up to date information on becoming more sustainable.”

We asked Bedford Borough Council why BFARe were denied a chance to have an official stand at the event and a spokesperson told us, “BFARe are a campaigning body, they did not fit the criteria for a stall at this event.”

Stallholders expected at the event include Bedford Borough Council Departments, Bedford Climate Change Forum, Kempston Climate Change Group, Marston Vale Community Rail, Plastic Free Bedford and others.

‘Dr Bike’ will also be attending offering free servicing of bikes to make them safe and roadworthy.

There will also be dedicated speakers and stands offering advice for businesses, sharing tips on how businesses can become more sustainable, “while driving down utility costs and adhering to new government guidance and standards.”

BFARe have created a map that they say shows the impact of the chosen East West Rail route (tap/click to expand)
BFARe have created a map that they say shows the impact of the chosen East West Rail route (tap/click to expand)

Air pollution

BFARe has argued that the proposed east west route, coupled with the use of diesel commuter trains and freight trains, will severely impact air pollution in the Borough.

They claim the construction lasting up to 10 years will create “damaging and irreversible environmental implications” and are frustrated that “Bedford Council has promoted and continues to support this unnecessary and destructive route.”

Mike Barlow of bFARE

Mike adds, “through the BFARe Peaceful demonstration on 26 March, we are highlighting that despite the design for Route E having been worked on for several years and the production for construction costings, at no time has EWR Co. made their business case public.

Mike and fellow campaigners are now calling on the Government to provide a business case as to why Route E is the best route between Bedford and Cambridge.

“This has NOT been done to date,” he says.

Campaigners also highlight that Bedford Borough’s Local Plan 2040 allocates little housing land near any of the planned East West Rail stations, which they say proves the Borough’s own plans do not show support for the route.

“Now is the time for Bedford Borough Residents to speak up and join the BFARe and Protect Poets campaigns,” said Mike.

“Raise your voice and be heard. There is a better East West Rail route for Bedford that is less destructive to homes, lives and livelihoods; a route less polluting and less environmentally damaging.”

The Mayor would rather block public access to balanced information by refusing BFARe access to a stand. This is why we are arranging a peaceful protest…

“Join us… if you are concerned about EWR and its impact on the environment and Bedford.”

Mayor Dave Hodgson faced EWR campaigners on his Village Tour in September 2021

Speaking to the Bedford Independent previously, the Mayor said: “The Council has submitted its response to the Government’s East West Rail Company’s consultation including reiterating that the route need only be four-track coming out of Bedford Midland station negating the need for any homes needing to be demolished in the Poets area and the need for the line to be electrified from the very start.

“We are now awaiting the Government’s East West Rail Company announcement of the route alignment and the next phase of the consultation.”

East West Rail Company plans is due to announce their preferred route alignment soon, when they will also reveal their next steps for delivering the project.

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