Richard Fuller, Conservative MP for North East Bedfordshire, was joined by parish council representatives on a walk through East West Rail’s Route E with EWR Co’s chief executive, Simon Blanchflower, CBE.
It was the first chance for an in-person meeting with communities affected by the Oxford to Cambridge rail route since Covid restrictions were eased.
Mr Blanchflower was joined by EWR’s strategy and sponsorship director, Will Gallagher, engagement manager, Jordi Beascoechea and the Department for Transport’s EWR deputy director, Dr Cath Therry.
The group visited several communities to the north of Bedford including Clapham, Brickhill, Ravensden, Renhold, Wilden, Great Barford, Renhold, Roxton and Chawston.
The aim of the visit was for Mr Blanchflower to listen to local voices on some of the issues that were raised as part of the recent consultation.
Campaign group, BFARe, who are opposed to Route E and have called for a re-consultation on EWR’s routes, arranged for a representative of each affected parish council to attend at each stage of the route.
BFARe’s Mike Barlow said that they highlighted what they believe to be flaws in the consultation process, environmental issues surrounding Route E, their concerns over freight use on the line and “inconsistent and opaque costs to suit political expediency.”
“Simon Blanchflower expressed surprise at some of the more fundamental points that were made and committed to a follow-up meeting with BFARe and to look at the options suggested,” said Mr Barlow.
“The representative from the Department for Transport also heard some fresh messages for the first time and asked to have a follow-up meeting to understand the issues particularly around freight and lack of comparative environmental study at Route selection.
“In particular, there was interest around the in/out option for Bedford Midland.”
Mr Blanchflower said he was delighted to meet local representatives again in person.
“The new rail connection is of huge interest to communities along the whole route and I’m very grateful to Richard Fuller MP’s team for arranging our visit today, and to the councillors who took the time to come and share their thoughts with me,” he said.
“The team at EWR Co will be taking advantage of the easing of Covid restrictions to meet face-to-face with communities before we report back on the issues raised in the 2021 consultation and move forward with developing plans for the railway.”
Richard Fuller did not respond to the Bedford Independent’s request for a comment. However, in a statement on his Facebook page, he said: “My role was to facilitate the meetings and give a platform to the Councillors and residents.”
He congratulated residents on the effort they had put into highlighting their viewpoints and the persuasive but “polite and dignified manner” in which they conveyed their concerns.
Mr Fuller will be meeting with EWR to study the costings of the route options.
He said, “These costings continue to generate a lot of suspicion and concern, so it is important that EWR show full transparency of the process and factors that underpin these figures.”
A statutory consultation is expected next year when communities will be asked to give their comments on detailed proposals.