Ahead of today’s announcement of the next stage of the East West Rail (EWR) consultation, residents of the Poets Area, near Bedford Station, have been left reeling at the news that their homes are under threat.
Currently, there are four tracks serving Bedford Station, but today’s announcement shows a six-track station, requiring the compulsory purchase and demolition of a number of properties on Sidney Road, Spenser Road, Chesterton Mews, Milton Road and Granet Close.
Speaking as a resident and member of the Protect Poets – Save our Homes group, Cllr Colleen Atkins said, “Everyone had presumed [the existing four tracks] would be used before branching off north of Sainsbury’s.”
She said the action group will be campaigning for a route that doesn’t require the six tracks.
“The shock news of houses under threat of demolition in the Poets area has left the close-knit community reeling.
“It is heartbreaking news. As well as people losing their homes, it will have an impact on the wider community. I live in Poets and know how this will change the area. I urge everyone to join the campaign and respond to the consultation.”
“We must make sure impacts are removed or at least reduced”
Mayor Dave Hodgson said that he could, “immediately appreciate the distress this proposal will bring, particularly for those with homes on the route north of Bedford Station.”
He acknowledged that any significant infrastructure project was a ‘once in a generation investment and while there is certain to be an impact on residents, he said: “We must make sure that people affected are properly considered and, wherever possible, impacts are removed or at least reduced.
“That is why I am encouraging everyone to respond to the consultation from the East West Railway Company. It’s vital that all of the issues are made clear to the company.”
Respond to the consultation here.
The Council said it would be carrying out its own exercise, alongside EWR’s consultation, in the coming weeks to inform their own response.
The Mayor assured residents that the council response will be debated at a Full Council meeting before it is submitted.
“In that response, we will continue to push the EWR Company to minimise the impact on the environment and local communities both during the construction and operation of the railway,” he said.
“We will also press for the railway to be electrified throughout to maximise the benefit to our environment by taking traffic off roads in a way that tackles climate change.”
Complete redesign of Bedford Station
Among the considerations are options for new stations at Bedford and Bedford St Johns and their supporting infrastructure.
EWR Co is presenting developing plans for a new Bedford St Johns Station nearer to the hospital, and a complete redevelopment of Bedford Station itself, which it says would “bring significant investment into the centre of Bedford, unlocking the potential for regeneration, new jobs, growth and prosperity for the town.”
Affected residents were informed ahead of today’s announcement and councillors were invited to meetings with EWR today.
Following the meeting, Cllr Ben Foley said: “I am relieved they are not planning any demolitions of housing in Castle Ward which my fellow Green Councillor, Lucy Bywater, and I represent.
“By taking a careful look at satellite images, I am convinced East West Rail can run the extra pair of tracks alongside the existing tracks with a lot less impact on people’s homes north of Bromham Road.”
EWR is encouraging all Borough residents to take part in this latest phase of public consultation, which launched at 2pm today (31 March).
Route E – five proposed route alignments
Feedback is also being sought on five proposed route alignments of the chosen Route E.
In the initial public consultation held in 2019, Route E emerged as the favoured route and, according to EWR, was found to provide the most benefits for every £ of taxpayers’ money spent.
EWR say it was also found to best support community aspirations for sustainability, environmental protection and increasing biodiversity.
Local residents are disputing the validity of the original consultation and are mounting a legal challenge.
Richard Fuller, MP for a number of the affected villages, said: “There is a general sense, and I share this sense, that some questions remain unanswered ahead of this next stage of the consultation.”
Mike Barlow, of the BFARe campaign group, opposing Route E, says that around 50,000 homes in the affected area were not notified by EWR ahead of the original 2019 consultation.
Despite EWR distributing postcards to 120,000 residents, many affected areas were not covered by the mailshot and many residents claim they never received the information and were unaware that a consultation was taking place.
“Bedford is very much in the way, both metaphorically and literally,” he said.
Responding the allegations that whole villages were omitted from the original mailshot, a spokesperson for EWR said: “We carried out a six-week early stage, non-statutory consultation.
“Non-statutory consultation means that there are no rules as to who must or must not be consulted, and so there is no ‘prescribed’ consultee list.”
EWR state that as part of the consultation they held a series of workshops with those parishes that sat close to the route options.
“Many parish representatives attended these sessions, including from Childerley, Clapham, Knapwell, Litlington, Ravensden, Stapleford and Wilden Parish Councils.”
Make your voice heard
Today’s launch will be followed by the mailing of a summary of the consultation to 270,000 addresses along the route and EWR will be holding a series of online events for communities and stakeholders.
There will be community events, live-chat sessions with EWR Co’s team of experts and an interactive virtual consultation room, launching on 12 April.
Bedford and Kempston MP, Mohammad Yasin urged residents to make their views known.
“It’s an ambitious project which will inevitably bring disruption that will affect us all, and certainly some more severely than others.
“So, it’s vital that everyone engages with the consultation to ensure their voice is heard.”
He said he was excited about the opportunity for our town but had concerns about the impact of the proposals.
“I will be scrutinising the plans, which I’ve only just seen for the first time in detail and listening to residents and constituents before coming to any conclusions on a preferred route,” he said.
EWR Co’s chief executive, Simon Blanchflower CBE, said: “In developing these proposals, our team has focused on how we can minimise disruption to local communities and looked for ways we can protect and enhance the local environment.
“Now it’s time for communities to share their valuable local knowledge and ideas with us.”
You can take part in the consultation here.