EWR accused of hiding behind local councillors rather than directly addressing residents

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Local councillors have expressed their frustration that East West Rail Co continue to delay meeting face-to-face with residents, particularly those who face losing their homes in the Poets Area of the town.

And the local MP has urged EWR to grasp how detrimental the uncertainty over the plans is to the lives of people living in the Poets community.

East West Rail Co (EWR) responded to letters written by Mohammad Yasin MP and councillors representing the Poets area yesterday (14 February), confirming it is committed to direct engagement with local residents.

Regarding the residents of Poets and Ashburnham Road, the letter said: “…we have been actively looking at how best we can interact with them as well as other residents and landowners across the route who may be acutely affected by the project.”

However, it has yet to provide specific dates for face-to-face meetings and its updated proposals have been delayed by months.

In the meantime, Poets’ residents face continued uncertainty over the future of their homes, which, says Mr Yasin, is having “a real and significant impact on people’s everyday lives, whether that be in long term planning, wanting to move or make home improvements, or just the mental stress of ongoing uncertainty”.

He said: “EWR need to be much more open and honest about where the residents stand and what their options are whatever the outcome of the consultation.”

Colleen Atkins and Louise Jackson (Labour), councillors for Harpur ward, wrote to EWR expressing their concerns and disappointment that residents would be excluded from Local Representatives Groups, and also that the groups had been formed without consulting councillors.

Read: Frustration that residents are excluded from East West Rail community discussions

Direct engagement

Speaking to the Bedford Independent, Cllr Atkins said that she and Cllr Jackson had responded to EWR’s CEO, Simon Blanchflower regarding the type of engagement they would like to see.

“We have already written back to him stressing these should include in-person meetings and other ways that are convenient for people affected by the proposal,” she said.

“We hope those residents will let EWR know what type of meetings they would like and how frequently.”

Ms Atkins expressed her disappointment that EWR’s new proposals have been delayed until the summer, saying, “Residents need to know now exactly when they can expect to have news, saying ‘the Summer’ is far too vague. We need dates from EWR and they need to stick with them.

“We have stressed the impact the delays are having on Poets residents’ lives and their mental health and have urged that the proposals are released with the utmost of urgency.”

Left in limbo

In the letter, EWR say that they had hoped to finish analysing the consultation responses by early 2022, but now say “it is more likely to be ready to publish in the summer of 2022”.
Details of homes under threat in the Poets Area of Bedford
Details of homes under threat in the Poets Area of Bedford
EWR cite a large number of consultation responses and the need to work through these as the reason for the delay, but said Cllr Atkins in a post on the Protect Poets Facebook group, “this should have been factored into EWR’s initial timetable”.
“This update is therefore extremely disappointing as it means residents who would be directly affected by a six-track proposal continue to be left in limbo for even longer,” said Ms Atkins.
“The uncertainty being experienced causes extreme distress both in terms of practical actions…but also the impact it has on residents’ mental health which cannot be understated.
“We will continue to engage with EWR to stress the impact of delays and press for the proposals to be released as soon as possible.”
Mohammad Yasin MP
Mohammad Yasin, MP for Bedford and Kempston
Pic credit: Chris McAndrew

Bedford and Kempston MP, Mohammad Yasin, told the Bedford Independent: “I welcome EWR’s commitment to improving engagement because it has not been good enough to date.

“It is also reassuring that following specific requests from me and Harpur Councillors, Colleen Atkins and Louise Jackson, EWR has agreed to improve their engagement with the Poets and Ashburnham Road residents.

“It is very disappointing that the large number of consultation responses and the time needed for their analysis and consideration were not factored into the planning.”

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