Letters: An open letter to East West Rail Co “start treating us with the courtesy we deserve”

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East west Rail jacket

Dear East West Rail,

It has been a year now since your letter arrived on my doormat telling me and my family that our home MAY BE AFFECTED by the proposed Bedford to Cambridge section of your project.

Your lovely colour coded map showed that your plans required the knocking down of homes in my street, which might mean my house being knocked down.

BUT you weren’t 100% sure.

You needed to come out with a measuring tape, and a shovel. You needed to look closely at how many trains you would need to run. How many people would be on them and how much freight you would need to carry.

Read: East West Rail Company announces new Chief Executive Officer

These were all questions I also had. As well as: If you did take my house away, how would I be compensated? We arranged a Zoom call with someone from your team. The man we spoke to admitted that his only knowledge of where I lived was when he looked at Streetview.

He couldn’t answer any of the questions we had but said he would ‘take notes’

You sent out a lovely brochure to 1000s of homes, with a reversed picture of the Embankment on the front cover, and almost no information on how the route would impact people at ground level. Instead, we were all told to ‘go online’ to find out full details.

If you didn’t have a computer, you could order printed copies of the information, but that was hardly made obvious.

We begged for an in-person event, so people could TALK to a HUMAN BEING. But we were in knocked down and any possibility of extending the consultation, until an open event could be held (a matter of weeks) was refused as it would ‘delay the process’.

We logged onto virtual presentations where a panel from your company waxed lyrical about how wonderful the project was. How it would transform the lives and economy of the area.

We posted questions in a hidden chat box and your panel answered one or two, usually with ‘we will know before the Statutory Consultation next year’. We will never know how many questions went unanswered.

The documents you produced promised to treat “Landowners affected” (by the way we are HOMEOWNERS, not LANDOWNERS) with respect and keep us informed at every stage of the process. You repeatedly stated during the consultation and on your website afterwards that you were ’listening’ to the public and welcomed our questions.

So why, once the consultation concluded, did we experience complete radio silence. Questions went weeks and weeks without answers and when they did come it was always “We will know before the Statutory Consultation”.

In October we thought we had a breakthrough. A visit by the CEO and colleagues. You walked around the area, you spoke to our MP and Councillors but you refused to meet residents outside of a short public meeting where attendance was limited due to Covid restrictions.

And still no clear answers, no words of empathy or even an acknowledgement of the immense shadow hanging over us. Just a promise that we would have the findings of the consultation by the start of 2022.

2022 dawned. January came and went; February came and with it an email to our local councillors announcing a new Local Representatives Group meeting. This is to be held in February and every three months thereafter. BUT it was by invitation and only councillors were invited to attend.

So, we raised a lengthy list of questions we needed answers to, ahead of the next Consultation. What we learned was that there would be no more news until the Summer of 2022 and that you couldn’t reveal any decisions ahead of the full announcement.

Did you not think that letting residents know directly would have been polite, or respectful? Would it not have been considerate to state what month we could expect to hear further and what information we could expect to hear?

Instead, we were told it would take three weeks to produce the minutes of the meeting.

We were told that now, meeting with residents was a priority. Three weeks later we learnt from the local press that you met again with our councillors and our MP and outlined your plans to meet with us.

Those you classed as ‘affected’ would have 30 minutes each, those you classed as ‘unaffected’ would be able to attend a public meeting. But once again, we are expected to sit and wait for you to send us details of how to book our meetings.

What is the aim of holding these meetings at this stage? Are you going to tell us our homes are safe? As you’ve already refused to reveal any information before the summer, we doubt it. So is this so you can tick a box and say you have ‘listened’ to our concerns? You have failed to listen to them over the last 12 months.

So here we are 12 months into this process. Despite yet more promises to better engage with us you continue to fail. Minutes from the meeting on the 21st February, that we were promised within 3 weeks, are still not published 5 weeks later.

Emails to your Contact Us address go unanswered. You state 10 working days for a response, yet my simple question 35 working days ago remains unanswered (not the first time).

I ask the staff at EWR to put themselves in our shoes.

No one has been willing to talk to us for months. No one answers the questions we raise with them. We can’t make plans to improve our homes because we don’t know how long we will be here. We can’t sell because no one will buy a house with a potential CPO hanging over it.

We can’t switch off from thinking about what might happen. We wake up and are tormented by it.

We go out the front door and it’s all around us. We sit in our gardens and look at the electrified gantries on the existing lines and are reminded of it.

We need answers, we need transparency, and we need responsive, direct lines of communication. You invaded our lives 12 months ago. You took away our security, our certainty, and our freedom of choice.

Did you expect people in our position not to object, not to fight and not to want to be given answers? You have shown us no respect or understanding. We are nothing more than an obstacle to be overcome in the grand scheme.

Would you want to have spent the last 12 months of your life feeling like this? Would you want to face another day of not knowing what is going to happen to your family home?

I ask that you start treating us with the courtesy we deserve.

Julia Virdee
Bedford

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If you would like to write a letter to respond to any issues raised,
please email letters@bedfordindependent.co.uk

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