The East West Rail company (EWR Co) say they’ve had 190,000 individual comments and 9,800 responses to a second consultation into the controversial rail route through Bedford.
But local campaigners are now calling on them to be “open and honest” with the results and not hide behind “marketing spin” when fully publishing their findings.
The public consultation covered two key themes:
- Customer experience and railway operations
- Infrastructure proposals
The latter asked for opinions on the five route alignments for the section of East West Rail between Bedford and Cambridge, including stations and level crossings along the whole route.
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270,000 consultation summary documents were posted to residents and businesses along the East West Rail route and more than 100 online meetings with interested organisations, local authorities and residents were held.
There were also 51,000 visitors to their website, with 199,000 page views and 75,000 documents downloaded, including the consultation document, the technical report and several topic papers and factsheets.
Responses came from members of the public, local authorities, businesses, parish councils, MPs and local community groups.
“The number of responses we’ve received, the breadth of information and level of detail they contain demonstrates the value of consulting with local people at an early stage and the huge level of public interest in East West Rail,” said Simon Blanchflower CBE, Chief Executive of EWR Co.
But Mike Barlow of local campaign group Bedford for a Re-Consultation (BFARe) remains sceptical of the way the results may be presented.
“Cause for concern”
“It’s good that EWR got some responses,” he said, “it would be even better if they are open and honest about the content of those responses, rather than put the marketing spin on it as they have done to date.”
Mr Balow believes that there is still “cause for concern” based on the initial 2019 consultation.
“Then EWR received 7,000 responses, many of which were from members of the Wildlife trust with a template response expressing their disapproval,” he says.
Speaking to the Bedford Independent in March, EWR said they carried out a six-week, early-stage, non-statutory consultation, with a series of workshops for parishes that sat close to the route options.
Even so, campaigners maintain that not enough people are getting heard.
“It is disappointing that EWR persists in positioning these ‘non-statutory consultations’ as a favour to residents when they are making decisions to irreversibly damage the environment, people homes and lives,” Mr Barlow adds.
Looking at the figures, Mr Barlow says too few people are having their voices heard and there was a “missed opportunity” for face-to-face meetings due to COVID restrictions.
He criticises EWR for not extending the consultation despite lobbying from local MPs and Councillors.
Furthermore, while EWR is seemingly celebrating the number of consultation responses and comments, BFARe offers a different perspective.
“9,800 responses only represents 1.5% of the impacted population,” claims Mr Barlow.
He’s now calling on EWR to be “open and honest” by sharing how many objected to the route selection consultation in 2019 and present the full facts of this second consultation.
EWR’s Mr Blanchflower maintains they’ll “continue to reach out to local communities and their representatives” to keep talking outside of the formal consultation.
He also recently met with North East Bedfordshire MP, Richard Fuller (Conservative), and representatives from the local community.
EWR Co say the responses to the second non-statutory consultation, alongside ongoing technical, financial and environmental studies, will now be used to help shape the next stages of design.
“EWR Co will publish a report summarising the consultation feedback as well as information on how the feedback has been used to inform plans for the railway,” said a spokesperson.
Further opportunities to comment on the proposals at the statutory consultation are planned for 2022.
After that, EWR Co expects to submit a formal application for a Development Consent Order to the Secretary of State for permission to construct and operate the railway.