EWR survey finds most Bedfordians support EWR but campaigners say wrong questions asked

East West Rail (EWR) jacket
Image: East West Rail Co

A survey carried out by East West Rail Co (EWR Co) has found that three-quarters (75%) of Bedfordians support a new east-west rail service, which they say they will provide.

However, campaigners have argued that the question that remains should not be if people want a rail service but what part of Bedford Borough they want it to run through.

The poll of 1,000 people, which EWR says is a robust and accurate sample size, shows a huge number of people in Bedford believe a project like EWR will bring many benefits.

Industry standard for polling, according to the British Polling Council, states that 10% of the population is a good sample size, so long as that number does not exceed 1,000.

Bedford Borough’s population is roughly 190,000. 10% is therefore 19,000, which exceeds the 1,000-person threshold needed.

The 1,000 respondents were asked about the impact of a new, frequent rail service from Bedford to Cambridge, Cambourne, Milton Keynes and Oxford, the survey found:

  • 80% believe it will improve access to jobs
  • 75% say it will boost access to education
  • 78% believe it will improve access to essential public services like hospitals
  • 83% say it will improve how people can travel around the area
  • 58% believe it will make it easier to visit family and friends

Beth West, CEO, EWR Company, said: “This new survey is strong testament to the support that Bedford residents have for East West Rail and underpins how the project will bring such game-changing benefits to the local community.

“East West Rail has been designed to improve quality of life for everyone across the region. What this poll shows is that Bedford residents agree that EWR will do that by improving people’s access to quality jobs, educational opportunities and public services.”

Waste of money

However, Bedford for a Re-consultation (BFARe) has criticised the polling, saying it asks the wrong questions.

“What is the standout point of this survey? By polling only Bedford residents, their results demonstrate how people in Bedford will use EWR to leave the Bedford area for jobs, leisure, and education,” said a BFARe spokesperson.

“It would have been better to survey people elsewhere in the EWR corridor to say if they would be more likely to come to Bedford than they do now. The survey did not question the specific rail route options between Bedford & Cambridge.

“Yet another tick box exercise and waste of taxpayers’ money.”

The ‘preferred’ route (corridor) for EWR, which runs through the north of the Borough, has been a target for campaigners since it was announced in May last year.

Read: East West Rail corridor announced

This led the elected Mayor of Bedford Borough, Tom Wootton (Conservative) to commission research on alternative routes. Research which did not conclusively find a viable alternative.

Read: Residents told to “continue” planning for EWR Route E despite recent council research

BFARe says they’re now considering their own survey. “It’s the specific route chosen by EWR that is the actual issue,” added their spokesperson.

“This survey does not prove people support Route E North of Bedford through the town which brings pollution using diesel trains, destruction of people’s homes and businesses along with years of construction, road closures and chaos in the already congested areas of our town.

“Without polling individuals about their thoughts on the preferred route, there’s a potential gap in understanding whether support for the project translates directly into support for the specific plans in place.

“It is our experience that Bedford residents clearly have concerns regarding how the rail line will affect their neighbourhoods, environment, or daily lives, which could influence their overall stance on the project.”

Beth West disagrees and believes the route chosen is the best for Bedford and the rail line overall.

“We believe the route we have chosen, which connects the town centre and Bedford Hospital, is the one that will deliver the most benefits for Bedford. It’s clear from this survey that people do recognise the opportunities our line will bring

“It’s important that a major transport project like ours has support from people who live and work in the town. We always thought this to be the case and now have strong evidence to back this up.

“We will continue to work hard with local businesses and communities in Bedford to ensure East West Rail improves their everyday lives, which includes working closely with local transport providers to maximise the potential of local and regional services,” she says.

Business backing

Despite local campaigns, business membership organisations have also said EWR will bring benefits to the local economy. The Bedford Chamber of Commerce has even urged the Government to accelerate full delivery of the project.

The Chamber said EWR is vital to revitalise the town centre as a dynamic hub with better connectivity which will create jobs, boost inward investment and create a more attractive shopping, leisure and hospitality.

Meanwhile, Richard Tunnicliffe, Regional Director, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said: “New infrastructure can bring major benefits to businesses and help fuel local economies, so it’s vital that towns like Bedford and the businesses there get the transport connections they need so they can prosper.

“East West Rail will be key driver of economic prosperity in Bedford, providing businesses with the confidence to invest in the area with the prospect of greater connectivity, giving greater accessibility to more trade and a larger labour market.

This project can only be a good thing for Bedford and we look forward to its many benefits becoming a reality.”

Suzanna Austin, Development Manager, FSB (Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire), agrees, adding that, “Many businesses in the Bedford area currently suffer with the lack of connectivity, hampering their efforts to grow.

“This sustainable transport project has been a long time coming and by reforging this old connection, will aid in revitalising the local economy, increasing footfall and improving prosperity, all of which will bring a major boost to small businesses.”

The Bedford Borough Mayor was asked to comment but did not reply by the time of publication.

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