EWR Co announces new CEO as campaign groups launch petition to pause project

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David Hughes CEO EWR Co. Image: Govuk
David Hughes CEO EWR Co. Image: Govuk

East West Railway (EWR) Company has announced the appointment of David Hughes as chief executive officer, who will take over from Beth West on 3 June.

David joins EWR from ARUP where he has been major programmes director and is said to have a long track record in developing and delivering the biggest transport programmes in the UK.

His career spans serving as director general responsible for rail infrastructure in the Department for Transport, programme director at Transport for the North, and investment planning director at Transport for London.

Speaking or his appointment, David Hughes said: “I’m very excited to be joining the EWR team at this important moment.

“I’ve spent my career to date delivering transport connections that both make a real difference to the lives of the communities they serve and boost economic growth as well.

“EWR epitomises that – it’s a real opportunity to improve the quality of life for people living locally with faster and more frequent connections to the places they want to go, and it can also be a huge win for the UK economy as a whole.

“I can’t wait to get started, and particularly to meet local residents and businesses during the consultation, to hear your views on how to best develop East West Rail for the future.”

Petition to pause

David will need to hit the ground running, with the recent announcement that local campaign group BFARe has joined forces with other groups in petitioning the government to pause the EWR project pending a full, independent review.

BFARe used the news about Mr Hughes’ appointment, to reiterate their ongoing issues with the EWR project, emphasizing their demand for more transparent consultations and a reassessment of the project’s impact on local communities and environments.

“David Hughes, who has a strong background in transport infrastructure, particularly with Network Rail, is expected to bring significant expertise to the role,” said a BFARe spokesperson.

“However, BFARe has underscored the need for him to address the longstanding concerns of local stakeholders about environmental impacts, route choices, and community consultations more robustly,” they added.

Campaigners have now called on Hughes to “prioritize community engagement” and ensure that any decisions made under his leadership will be “inclusive and considerate of local feedback”.

There is hope from BFARe, however, that his leadership will mark a new chapter in which their concerns will be more thoroughly addressed.

“[We hope] the project will be managed in a way that aligns with both regional development goals and local community interests for all Bedford residents emphasising on route choice & re-evaluation.

“We are working closely with other campaign groups and have set up a petition today to pause the EWR project. We call for these plans to be paused and for a full, transparent & independent review,” they added.

However, both the chair of EWR Co and the Rail Minister have said Hughes is perfect for the challenges he will face in the role.

Neil Sachdev, Chair of EWR Co, said: “…He [Hughes] brings a proven track record in delivering major transport programmes, and a real commitment to the promise that EWR offers, both for better public transport in local communities but also in unlocking growth in this world-leading region for science and technology.

“David starts on solid foundations, and I want to take this opportunity to say thank you again to our outgoing CEO, Beth West, for the good work she has done over the past two years to get us ready as we embark on the next phase of EWR.”

Rail Minister Huw Merriman added, “I am delighted with David’s appointment and look forward to working with him as we continue to deliver East West Rail – a major project that is part of the Government’s plan to improve transport and will transform rail journeys for millions of people between Oxford and Cambridge.

“As the project picks up pace ahead of the introduction of passenger services next year, David’s wealth of experience delivering major rail projects will be invaluable in driving forward the next crucial phases of the line, building on the huge amount of progress already made to date.”

Despite this, the hyperlocal campaign group, Protect Poets, is reserving judgment but gave their own views on what they believe Mr Hughes should prioritise.

“His CV shows experience in infrastructure projects,” they said. “However, anyone who has followed the EWR proposals and process so far is aware of significant failings in transparency and communication.

“What we need him [Hughes] to demonstrate is a true willingness to accept the flaws of the project, and listen to the concerns of residents regarding environmental impact, economic viability, and the significant limitations of the chosen route. 

“He should make it a number one priority to visit affected communities and be prepared to make changes to what is currently on the table.”