“No need to demolish Poets’ homes” says rail consultant’s report into East West Rail

Details of homes under threat in the Poets Area of Bedford
Details of homes under threat in the Poets Area of Bedford

Bedford’s Mayor, councillors and campaigners have welcomed a report that has shown that the East West Rail (EWR) service could run effectively using just the existing four lines, and avoid the need to demolish any homes in the Poets area.

And councillors are urging residents to use this information when they respond to EWR’s consultation.

Bedford Borough Council commissioned SLC Rail, specialists in rail projects, to conduct a technical review of this section of the route in response to the East West Rail Company’s current consultation proposing six tracks to run north of the station.

Read: Residents left ‘reeling’ ahead of next stage of East West rail consultation

This would require over 50 homes to be compulsorily purchased and potentially demolished, nearly 50 more to lose some of their land or gardens and another rebuilding of the Bromham Road Bridge causing further disruption to local residents on this busy route into the town.

This report shows that:

  • East West Rail trains could run on the existing lines, as in a standard hour of train services there is still 28 minutes – nearly half of the time – where the line is free and an East West Rail service could run.
  • It also shows that this free time could be extended to 40 minutes in the hour with some relatively minor changes to the track layout within its existing boundaries.
  • The report concludes that with efficient timetabling and some track layout adjustments it is possible to bring the East West Rail service through Bedford Midland without the need to demolish homes.
  • This would also be a cheaper option than the proposed six tracks.

The Protect Poets Steering Group was set up by residents whose area is threatened by the six-track proposal. They recently met with Mayor Dave Hodgson to convey the strength of feeling in the area.

“Protect Poets is glad to see the results of this report, it is a step in the right direction,” said a spokesperson for the steering group.

“We believe that the meeting we had with the Mayor has helped him to understand the impact of the demolition of homes in our town. But, until it is guaranteed that our homes and community can be saved from destruction, we will continue to fight for them.”

Mayor Dave Hodgson said that the report confirms what Bedford Borough Council have said all along, “that there is no need for extra lines on the section of track north of Bedford station to Fairhill.”

He said: “The rail experts producing this report for the Council have demonstrated that with a few relatively minor adjustments to the track layout there is ample capacity for East West Rail trains to and from Cambridge, without the need for the government to compulsorily purchase homes in the Poets area.”

He confirmed that Network Rail had come to the same conclusion in a recently released report.

“We will now continue to push the East West Railway Company to adopt this revised approach so that our community can benefit from this once-in-a-generation investment that will bring jobs and businesses to Bedford Borough without the loss of homes in the Poets area.”

Bedford station
Bedford station will be rebuilt as part of the project

Councillors for the Poets area, Louise Jackson and Colleen Atkins, also welcomed the report.

Cllr Jackson told the Bedford Independent: “Colleen and I welcome this report by rail consultants SLC – it shows that with efficient timetabling and some track layout adjustments, it is possible to bring the East West Rail service through Bedford Midland, without the need to demolish homes.

“Our objective has always been to save these homes, and so the report will form the basis of our consultation response to East West Rail.

“We would urge residents who haven’t already responded to EWR’s consultation, to do so as soon as possible.”

You can respond to the consultation here.

The Conservative Group – who are opposed to the chose Route E – said they welcome the Borough Council’s “late attempt to prevent the destruction of homes in the Poets area.”

Great Barford Councillor, Stephen Moon, said: “The question the Mayor must answer is whether in supporting the route chosen he knew of EWR’s plans, in which case he ignored the plight of the residents affected, or whether he was unaware of the plans, in which case he was negligent.

“We have difficulty in understanding how he could have been unaware of the plans as he or his representatives had several meetings with EWR before deciding to support the route and throughout his colleague Cllr Headley was a member of the EWR Consortium Strategic Board.”

Green councillor, Lucy Bywater said: “My fellow councillor Ben Foley and I are glad, but not at all surprised, that the study has revealed what was clear to us all along, that East West Rail’s talk of demolishing premises in the Poets area was always unnecessary.

“We are, however, frustrated that no efforts have been made by the council to commission a study into how to avoid similarly unnecessary threats hanging over residents of Ashburnham Road, in Castle Ward, that we represent.”

Cllr Bywater said there was no more need to demolish homes on Ashburnham Road to rebuild the station than there is to demolish homes to get the tracks north out of Bedford.

She urged the council to look at the detail of the proposals for the rural areas of north Bedfordshire to make sure threats of demolitions there are also shown to be unnecessary.

“We have been running a petition that is aimed at avoiding all these demolitions, at all locations in Bedford Borough,” she said.

Fellow Green councillor, Ben Foley added “The council should be looking how to maximise the opportunity for Bedford, which should include a new fast line platform for southbound East Midlands trains. Councillor Bywater and I are disappointed by the failure of ambition shown in the SLC technical note.

“The consultation documentation talks of the advantage to East West Rail of having such a new southbound fast line platform. Bedford should be seizing on this opportunity, which would enable through trains from Leicester to Bedford to resume, after they end this week.”

He also said that there were many more aspects of the East-West Rail proposals that still need attention, including ways of making sure that travel to-and-from Bedford’s stations by bus, cycle and on foot are as easy and practical as possible.

Edited at 11:03 on 11 May 2021 to include comments from the Conservative Group.

Headline edited at 12:00 on 11 May 2021 to reflect that the report did not originate from EWR