Wixams residents are one step closer to having their long-promised station after the Wixams Station Board recommended the project can proceed to the next planning stage.
Cllr Graeme Coombes (Wixams) wrote in the latest Wixams residents’ newsletter that the necessary funding has been secured and there is support, in principle, for a two-platform station.
“The [Wixams Station] Board then recommended that the project proceed to the next stage (Stage 2b), by commissioning design work specifically for a two-platform faced station,” said Cllr Coombes.
“The deadline should be met for obtaining the additional station funding from L&Q [the Wixams developer] who are still engaged with the project and keen for it to proceed.”
Cllr Coombes added that he was hopeful there wouldn’t be any issues gaining planning permission.
“The planned date for the opening of Wixams station is currently July 2024, around 11 years late,” he said. “Let’s hope the trains are more punctual.”
“A running joke”
Leon Staszak of Wixams Community Group told the Bedford Independent: “I’m very pleased to see good progress is being made on the delivery of the Wixams station.”
He said the decade long delay to the project had almost certainly caused issues for residents who moved to the town expecting to be able to commute by train to work.
“The Wixams station has become a bit of a running joke in the community,” said Leon.
“The station represents one of many failed promises for the development, along with a funding gap for a healthcare centre, too few school places and a list of facilities which were removed from the original plans.”
“Having our own station will mean commuters are not forced to travel into Bedford or Flitwick so will ease congestion on our road network.”
While this is great news for Wixams residents, it comes as a blow for campaigners opposed to the north Bedford ‘Route E’ chosen by East West Rail (EWR) to connect Oxford and Cambridge.
Residents of villages that will be affected by the new rail line have argued the new rail line should run to the south of the town centre, bypassing Bedford Station and creating a Wixams Parkway.
In a blog post on Bedford Rail, author John Kell, wrote last year, “Prior to the announcement of East West Rail’s route, there were two possible new stations just south of Bedford in the offing.
“Plenty of people confused them, but they were in fact entirely separate proposals.
“East West Rail’s possible Bedford South Parkway station, on the mooted route that would have by-passed Bedford to the south, could in fact have messed things up rather badly for the other proposed station, at Wixams.
“Had that route been chosen, almost certainly the Wixams station would have been forced to move from its long-planned site to further north, to act as a split-level interchange with East West Rail.
“But in the event, Bedford South Parkway is now a dead letter.”
Councillors put ward priorities first
Does this place Cllr Graeme Coombes in an awkward position? To protect the outcome of Wixams station, Cllr Coombes supported Route E.
However, a considerable number of his Conservative Group colleagues whose constituencies fall within the proposed route, have opposed Route E.
A statement from the Conservative Group, of which Cllr Coombes is the leader, said: “The Group supports the idea that East West Rail should connect directly with Bedford town.
“However, whilst a decision on a preferred route has now been made by EWR (route E), it is acknowledged that some Councillors oppose a route exiting Bedford to the north…”
Campaigners against Route E, including Conservative Councillors from the affected wards, have argued the route will have “a devastating impact on our Bedfordshire villages and prime agricultural land.”
They say the route will have “a detrimental effect on the wards and communities that they represent.”
At the full council meeting on Wednesday 24 February, Cllr Coombes said his support for Route E was transparent and part of a cross-party lobbying effort over 25 years.
He told the meeting that Wixams’ station is his number one priority “always, forever and first… I supported route E to stand up for my ward,” he said.
He later told the Bedford Independent: “Obtaining buy-in from the rail industry and the decision by the Wixams Station Board to progress to Stage 2b, are key milestones.
“Whilst this remains a complex infrastructure project with much work still do, with the finances now secured, rail industry acceptance and the political will to deliver, I remain confident that we, the people of Wixams, will get our long-promised station in 2024.”
Construction expected to begin in 2023
A Borough Council spokesperson said: “The development of the Wixams Station has been years in the making but, with agreement from the rail industry now secured, a location and footprint agreed, funding is in place and construction is expected to begin in 2023.
“This progress has only been possible because the doubt over East West Rail plans was removed from Wixams last year.
“With the significant large-scale development already in place and committed in the area around the station it would very difficult to change this to become an interchange point on the East West Rail line.”
£13million of the funding for Wixams station is time-limited from the developer, L&Q.
The time frame would have run out before the station was built if it hadn’t been possible to move the plans forward over the last year.
“The proposed southern routes for East West Rail would have put the delivery of the Wixams Station in serious jeopardy, would have blocked the progress that has been made over the last year, and would result in millions of pounds of economic benefit bypassing our Borough.”
A spokesperson from EWR told the Bedford Independent: “Bedford station is already an important transport hub in the region.
“East West Rail services will bring back vital connections to this vibrant, diverse town: connections lost in the last century, which will support local aspirations for more jobs, prosperity and growth.
“Going directly into Bedford Station also provides better onward connectivity to destinations further afield, without affecting the ability of local councils and other stakeholders to continue with plans for a new north-south station at Wixams.”
“We will soon present to the public a number of route alignment options that we have been developing within the broad area of Route E.
“It’s really important for anyone with a view on how the railway should be built to take part in the consultation, so they can help us build the right connections for their communities.”