Tories hit out at ‘political’ vote which exposed group’s division on East West Rail route controversy

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East West Rail Route E
Route E has been selected as the 'preferred' route for the Oxford to Cambridge line through Bedford Borough.

Bedford Council’s Conservative leader slammed the Liberal Democrats for gutter politics over taking a recorded vote on the divisive issue of the proposed route of the East West Rail.

At a combative meeting of the council this week the Lib Dems hit back at their opponents, accusing them of “flip flopping” and failing to represent their constituents when the issue was consulted on in 2019.

The Tories are in attack mode over a “lack of consultation” on council support for Route E which will take it through north Beds on its way between Oxford and Cambridge.

Cllr Graeme Coombes, the Conservative leader, admitted he had supported taking the line to the north. The Conservatives support the principle of East West Rail.

He said for his ward, the most important issue is making sure that Wixams gets a station.

“It sums up the gutter level of the Liberal Democrats turning everything into a party political debate. I suggest they all grow up,” he said.

Councillors were discussing their response to a petition from Steve Arnold, of Ravensden, which had gathered nearly 1,600 signatures before Wednesday’s meeting.

Cllr Coombes said it is wrong to say Route E had unanimous support.

Other councillors said the Conservatives have taken part in votes on issues, including the local plan which included support for the railway through Bedford. Cllr Foster pointed out she had not supported the local plan.

Cllr Michael Headley (Lib Dem, Putnoe) said East West Rail will be launching another consultation within weeks and he urged residents to get involved.

He added: “Residents will ask themselves where were these councillors in 2019? Why weren’t them informing them?”

Protestors said they had been believed Route E would not be chosen because of high costs, which had changed.

Read:Further consultation called for as opposition grows to chosen East West Rail route

He said support for Route E was transparent and part of a cross party lobbying effort over 25 years.

He added that southern routes could kill off Wixams station hopes.

For Cllr Coombes Wixams station is number one priority “always, forever and first.”

“I supported route E to stand up for my ward,” he said.

But he claimed Route E would be a “Trojan Horse” to open up development sites on “large swathes” north of Bedford.

Concern was expressed by members of the public at the prospect of more than 20 freight trains using it every day.

Mr Arnold recoiled at the thought of “juggernaut” diesel trains disturbing residents.

But Cllr Ben Foley (Green, Castle) said he “cannot recognise concerns over freight trains” which already come through Bedford and cause “zero disturbance”.

Cllr Foster said the Conservatives had been presented with a fait accompli.

But Cllr Henry Vann (Lib Dem, De Parys), said he was “flabbergasted” at what he was hearing.

“The Conservatives are putting Wixams station at risk with their flip flopping over their support for Route E,” he said.

But Cllr Foster said: “Please don’t try and say we are backtracking and flip flopping, we’re not.”

Conservative councillors voted for, against and to abstain on Cllr Headley’s motion.

by David Tooley
Local Democracy Reporter

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