Bedford Borough’s Mayor, Dave Hodgson, has outlined his rail priorities for the area with an updated rail strategy that he says takes into account recent developments within the sector.
The strategy outlines what he says will deliver long-term sustainable growth and rail infrastructure for residents in Bedford Borough.
- Delivering the new Wixams Station
- Maximising the benefits of East West Rail, including opposing six tracks north of Bedford and calling for electrification from day one
- A new, sustainable transport hub at Bedford Midland Station
- Improving Bedford’s connectivity
Announcing the plans, Mayor Hodgson said: “This is an important update to the strategy from 2019.
“As well as clearly setting out our priorities for rail in Bedford Borough and beyond, it also sets out our opposition to six-track north of Bedford Midland and our frustration with how residents have been treated by the East West Rail Company.
“We have consistently campaigned to keep the existing four-track entry and believe that our residents deserve better than repeated delays to decisions and inconsistent communications. It is unacceptable.”
However, the priorities and the reasoning behind them have been met with scepticism by some councillors and a campaign group, with the leader of Bedford’s Conservatives even calling the strategy “a travesty of hype over reality”.
East West Rail
As expected the biggest concern surrounds the plans to build the East West Rail line, an Oxford to Cambridge route through the north of Bedford Borough.
Mayor Dave Hodgson has said it is “essential that there are no further delays or unnecessary extra lines pushed forward by the East West Rail Company” and that all Bedfordians, including those directly impacted, “deserve better from the government and their East West Rail Company.”
Cllr Michael Headley, (Lib Dems, Putnoe), Portfolio Holder for Rail, added, “the new railway line is an important opportunity for Bedford Borough – socially, economically and environmentally. It is essential for our Borough that we maximise these benefits.
“However, we cannot support some of the actions of the government’s East West Rail Company, particularly their unnecessary proposal for extra tracks north of Bedford and the awful way they have treated people impacted by their proposals with unacceptable delays whilst the future of their homes is at risk.”
Commenting further on his suggestion that East West Rail could be a “catalyst for the town centre”, Cllr Headley added, “the railway will also provide huge environmental benefits, by replacing thousands of road journeys with a much more sustainable form of transport.
“To maximise these benefits, it is important that the line is electrified from day one – we have and will continue to lobby the EWR Company for this,” he said.
Asked for his thoughts on the strategy, Conservative Group Leader, Cllr Graeme Coombes (Wilshamstead) told the Bedford Independent, “as usual, Dave Hodgson’s rail strategy is a travesty of hype over reality.
“Trying to pretend he’s on the side of the people won’t wash with all those whose homes are under threat in the Poet’s area due to East West Rail…
“nor all those rural residents in the north of the Borough whose communities will be uprooted and destroyed, nor anyone living along the chosen route rural and town centre, who will have to endure an endless stream of freight trains at all hours of the day.
“Dave Hodgson lobbied hard for the EWR route option chosen and now he’s trying to furiously back-pedal and distance himself from it. Be careful what you wish for Dave.”
The long-awaited station at Wixams is also highlighted as a priority, with the Mayor saying it will provide an important transport connection for Wixams and the surrounding area when it opens in 2024.
Cllr Headley added, “a new station has always been part of the plans for Wixams, and now that we are leading on the development, we are seeing great progress towards the planned opening in 2024.”
However, Cllr Coombes, who represents the ward, sees it differently. He said: “The people of Wixams have nothing to be grateful to Dave Hodgson for.
“Having presided over endless delays to a station that should have been in place by 2013, he can’t now pretend to be the saviour of Wixams Station, which is only happening thanks to unrelenting pressure from Wixams residents,” he said.
Cllr Ben Foley (Green, Castle) has been a long-time rail campaigner in the Borough and did acknowledge “the good work” by Michael Headley and council officers.
He welcomed the “much-needed work” to make Bedford station a sustainable transport hub and to “head off the threats” of home demolition in the Ashburnham Road and Bromham Road areas.
On environmental matters, Cllr Foley was less complimentary saying talk of sustainable transport “rings hollow” when taking into account the Council’s recent road schemes.
Cllr Foley criticised the council for providing subsidised car parking and “perpetually spending money on encouraging people to drive” as well as “making cycling more difficult or dangerous”
Highlighting the removal of a safe route for cyclists over the A6 roundabout between Biddenham and Clapham, Cllr Foley added, “when the council doesn’t even have a dedicated cycling officer, talk of ‘sustainable transport’ sounds too much like empty words.”
Campaign group Protect Poets, set up by locals whose area is threatened by the six-track East West Rail proposal, has also expressed concern.
A spokesperson for the group said: “The Rail Strategy covers a wide range of aspirations and goals for the Borough when really the biggest issue right now is the demolition of homes in Poets and the increased risk of pollution for our town from the diesel trains on the preferred route of our Mayor and his team.
“Still the council’s objections to six tracks feel little more than lip service.
“We had an opportunity to present our concerns to the Executive last night, but we came away still unsure if the Council would continue to support their current route if it remains six-track as it currently is or if they would continue to support it if the line is not electrified.”