What is it about Bedford Council and trains that inevitably leads to chaos?
The only two things that people seem to more or less agree on are, first – that an east-west railway is a good thing in principle, and second – that it needs more consultation.
On 31st March, East West Rail (EWR) removed the southern route from consideration in a new non-statutory consultation leaving no option but a northern route. Instead of more consultation, Bedford gets less.
So far as consultation goes, be careful what you wish for. The purpose of consultation is to identify and accommodate the opposition. “It is better to have your enemy inside the tent firing out than outside firing in”.
There are no rules about consultations for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs) other than that a statutory consultation should happen. A developer has freedom to set out the process and steer the outcome of non-statutory consultation to fix a preferred route.
The main driver for NSIPs is usually deliverability, not necessarily cost, or even BCR (benefit/cost ratio).
Bedford Council’s support for a northern route without any concern for its impacts has given a green light to EWR for delivery of a railway on the northern route without challenge and to allow EWR to ride roughshod over residents.
The appalling consequences for 97 directly affected properties have been revealed for the first time and the full environmental impacts are yet to be assessed and revealed. These include loss of properties, proximity of the line to more properties, noise, air quality and vibration, flood risk, and harm to natural habitats and landscape. There are also problems about the deficiency of earlier consultation.
The southern route has apparently been discarded without any detailed comparison.
Environmental Regulations require the applicant (EWR) to provide within their Environmental Statement a description of reasonable alternatives they have considered to the development being proposed, and to explain why they have selected that particular option.
In this context, the development being proposed is a route through Bedford Midland and north of Bedford and a southern route is a reasonable if not better alternative.
A southern route with an interchange station at Wixams would have good access, far greater opportunity for parking, easy interchange with Thameslink and Midland services and a more direct and natural route for through trains between east and west giving faster journeys compared with a route through Bedford Midland.
On March 10th (38 minutes into the video of a meeting recorded on BFARe website), the Council insisted that a two level interchange at Wixams, necessary for a southern route, cannot be achieved for physical reasons.
The Council is wrong because any physical obstacle to delivery can be overcome with funding to deal with it which should already be in estimates, together with provision in the Development Control Order (DCO) – if made by the Secretary of State under the Planning Act 2008.
A southern route is perfectly feasible, but needs to be assessed in more detail for a fair comparison. The harm caused by a northern route through Bedford is real and extensive. The advantages claimed for the northern route in terms of regeneration and the local economy are dreams.
A southern route should be put back on the table as an option, together with comparative assessment of all the impacts of northern and southern routes. The time for this is now. Making changes once a DCO application is applied for depends on the developer. EWR are rushing towards that point and beyond.
Meanwhile, Bedford Council should be pursuing this with EWR. The Mayor and Council should follow the honourable lead set by Brickhill Parish Council by distancing themselves from support of a northern route through Bedford.
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