Frustration that residents are excluded from East West Rail community discussions

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East west Rail jacket

Local councillors have expressed their frustration that residents in their wards are not being included in the latest round of discussions with the East West Railway Company (EWR Co).

EWR Co has invited community representatives from every parish, ward and electoral division along the potential route of East West Rail to join regular discussions about the much-needed new transport connection.

However, the councillors that the Bedford Independent has spoken to have expressed their frustration that EWR has not included residents in these meetings.

EWR Co says the groups, which will continue throughout the planning, building and running of the new railway, are being set up at this early stage so the project can improve and benefit from collaboration with communities, who, they say, will see a “greener, quicker and more affordable way to travel across the region”.

Tick-box engagement

Cllr Louise Jackson (Lab), whose Harpur ward contains houses in the Poets area that could face demolition, said: “Elected representatives were not consulted on the timing and structure of these meetings, and EWR’s publication of their plans to hold these sessions increases our scepticism about their intentions. Tick box engagement exercises are not necessary.

“EWR and the Government now need to announce their intentions,  and consult properly –  crucially this means meeting with affected residents. Colleen [Atkins] and I have written to EWR to say so and that letter was made public.”

Meaningful conversations

Cllr Michael Headley (LibDem), portfolio holder for rail welcomed the opportunity for local representatives to have their say, but said it was vital that the conversations were meaningful and “give people the chance to ask questions and express the concerns they have so that their voices are heard throughout this major project.

“It is also going to be vital that this engagement by the East West Railway Company goes much wider than just the representatives invited to these meetings.“

Conservative councillor, Philippa Martin-Moran-Bryant, who represents the Great Barford ward said: “While I always welcome engagement, I know that the residents who I represent continue to feel frustrated that they are not being invited to meetings themselves and feel that things are happening behind closed doors.”

In addition, she said: “We will have to see how the meetings go in practice as past meetings have not been genuine consultations, more one-way presentations.”

Two-way communication is vital

Ben Foley, Councillor for Castle Ward (Green Party), which includes affected properties close to the station, said “It is essential there are regular and meaningful groups to honestly communicate with representatives of all the wards affected by the EWR project and for EWR to be properly listening, to minimise the negatives for local people and maximise the benefits.

“We welcome these groups if, but only if, they are to be an opportunity for genuine two-way communication, and EWR provides regular opportunities for direct engagement with local people.

“We will take opportunities to re-emphasise that it is perfectly possible to avoid all demolitions of homes in Bedford, and that when built it is vital that the line is electrified from the start.”

In a statement, Simon Blanchflower CBE, chief executive at EWR Co said: “These groups offer an opportunity for local representatives to have honest discussions with our team at regular intervals, during and outside of formal consultations.

“Most importantly, it will give our team the chance to really listen to the things that are important to local communities.

“We know issues such as rights of way, embankments and their impact on the landscape, and how we might minimise any noise that could come from the new railway are really critical and we’ll keep listening and working with local representatives to make sure any disruption to their communities is justified and kept to a minimum.”

All local community representatives are listed here:

Bedford Town Local Representatives Group

Cllr Lucy Bywater Castle ward
Cllr Ben Foley Castle ward
Cllr Abu Sultan Cauldwell ward
Cllr Fouzia Zamir Atiq Cauldwell ward
Cllr David Sawyer De Parys ward
Cllr Henry Vann De Parys ward
Cllr Timothy Caswell Goldington ward
Cllr Christine McHugh Goldington ward
Cllr Colleen Atkins MBE Harpur ward
Cllr Louise Jackson Harpur ward
Cllr Dean Crofts Kingsbrook ward
Cllr Patrick Solomon Kingsbrook ward
Cllr Hilde Hendrickx Newnham ward
Cllr Jake Sampson Newnham ward
Cllr Michael Headley Putnoe ward
Cllr Max Royden Putnoe ward
Cllr Nesreen Akhtar Queen’s Park ward
Cllr Mohammed Masud Queen’s Park ward

Bedfordshire Local Representative Groups

Cllr Wendy Rider Brickhill ward
Cllr Charles Royden Brickhill ward
Cllr Jonathan Gambold Bromham and Biddenham ward
Cllr Roger Rigby Bromham and Biddenham ward
Cllr Jane Walker Clapham ward
Cllr Sarah Gallagher Eastcotts ward
Cllr Phillippa Martin-Moran-Bryant Great Barford ward
Cllr Stephen Moon Great Barford ward
Cllr James Weir Kempston Rural ward
Cllr Jonathan Abbott Oakley ward
Cllr Martin Towler Riseley ward
Cllr Doug McMurdo Sharnbrook ward
Cllr Tom Wootton Wyboston ward

Parish Councils include Biddenham, Bolnhurst and Keysoe, Brickhill, Bromham, Cardington, Clapham, Colmworth, Cople, Great Barford, Milton Ernest, Oakley, Ravensden, Renhold, Roxton, Shortstown, Staploe, Stevington, Thurleigh, Turvey, Wilden, Willington and Wyboston, Chawston and Colesden.

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