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BFARe FACT CHECK: Council Announces Consultation Report to EWR will Seek to Maximise Benefits and Minimise Impacts

“Council to Make Case to Government to Maximise Benefits of East West Rail for Residents and Minimise Impacts”

Council to Make Case to Government to Maximise Benefits of East West Rail for Residents and Minimise Impacts

BFARe Comment: Why was this announcement, relevant to ALL Bedford Borough residents regardless of their political party, released as a LibDem announcement?  Why is it not a Bedford Borough Council announcement? 

Following an extensive process to gather the views of local residents, Bedford Borough Council has published a draft response to the current East West Rail consultation based on maximising the many benefits of the project and minimising negative impacts on communities and the environment.

BFARe Comment: The two council on-line council events were NOT an exercise to gather resident views. The questions the residents submitted were not adequately answered as the mayor and councillors spent all of their time defending their position to support Route E through Bedford.  These events were an exercise in “objection handling” for the Mayor’s sales pitch, not an exercise in listening.

“Analysis has shown that the new railway would give Bedford Borough a multi-million pound economic boost, creating hundreds of additional local jobs and linking Bedford with the thriving economies of both Oxford and Cambridge.

BFARe Comment: The new railway will bring economic benefits to Bedford. The vast majority of these are available with a Southern Route.  BBC calculated £6.23m of incremental annual benefit of a route coming through Bedford Midland. That represents just 0.13% uplift in Bedford’s GVA (total approx. £4.8bn). Also – this was calculation before the devastation to Bedford town was known; Demolition of properties such as Poets, complete restructuring of neighbourhood areas in Cauldwell and Midland station, the remodelling of four main town centre bridges and remodelling of Bedford’s Roads.  The incremental annual benefit of £6.23M per annum MUST be recalculated to take into account the DISBENEFIT of this town centre devastation.  Route E will do nothing but cost Bedford money that it does not have to give to this project.

“The Council’s draft response, which will be publicly discussed at a virtual meeting of all councillors on Wednesday 2nd June, sets out how the benefits to Bedford Borough can be maximised, including:

A comprehensive redevelopment of Bedford Midland Station which supports regeneration of the station quarter, while including a new fast line platform to enable more north/south intercity services to serve Bedford.

BFARe Comment: Neither the remodelling of Bedford Midland, nor Bedford’s application for Towns Fund is contingent on EWR coming through town.  The remodelling of Midland station should be done without a devastating train line running through Bedford!  This fact has been already confirmed by the council.

Supporting the delivery of more homes in Bedford town centre – providing important new housing and reducing pressure for development on greenfield sites in the countryside.

BFARe Comment: The objective of EWR is to facilitate 1 million new homes by 2050 in the Ox-Cam Arc. To suggest this won’t involve greenfield sites is ridiculous.  The six-track option will demolish 98 existing homes, so the Council has to build 98 more for a start. In the town centre, East West Rail works will take up a large amount of primarily brown field sites – sites that could actually be used more sensibly for housing if a better route to the South was chosen.

Supporting East West Rail Company’s shortlisted route alignment 1, which has a lower impact in respect of noise, visual impact, Scheduled Monuments & Conservation Areas than East West Rail Company’s route alignment 9.

BFARe Comment: By their own admission, East West Rail has not properly assessed the environmental impact of Route E!  Just as an example, EWR had omitted 2 ancient woodlands and a wildlife refuge from their Route E alignment maps and taken a “rosy” view of how much devastation this route will bring. 

“Delivering a new East West Rail station at Stewartby – serving Stewartby, Wixams, Wootton and the surrounding area to the south and south west of Bedford with direct trains to Cambridge.

BFARe Comment:  The main reason for a station at Stewartby is for freight trains access to the Covanta Waste Incinerator.  Veolia, the owner of Covanta, has stated its intention to transport toxic waste from their Norfolk site to Stewartby using EWR – through Bedford Town Centre.   Stewartby is completely illogical to serve EWR commuter traffic.  Wixams and South Bedfordshire residents will need to travel by car to Stewartby to get on a train that will follow a longer ridiculous route through North Bedfordshire and will not cut journey times or cost.  Most will prefer to just stay in their car and choose to drive to Cambridge, Milton Keynes or Oxford because once their on the A421, why pay more and take more time to get there?

“The Council’s response also proposes alterations to minimise the negative impacts of the East West Rail Company’s proposals on local communities, in particular:

Avoiding the need for demolitions of homes including removing the need for any demolitions in the Poets area of Bedford through a four-track solution rather the proposed six-tracks north of Bedford Midland station, which a study has shown is achievable.

BFARe Comment: The SLC document that BBC are relying on was first sent to EWR in August 2019. The Council knew about the Poets area demolitions then. EWR have already ignored this request for 4 tracks and have stated in the current consultation that they require six tracks.  The BBC are engaging in political positioning to defer the blame for this destruction on EWR. The real question is – should EWR reject this proposal (again) then will the council continue to support the demolition of these homes?  We think the Council must rescind their support for the devastating Northern Route through Bedford.

A major reduction in the viaduct required where the line passes south of Clapham, and the replacement of the proposed cutting to the east of Clapham around Carriage Drive with a tunnel.

BFARe Comment: Simon Blanchflower, CEO of EWR is on record as saying they won’t consider tunnels due to the increased cost. We must state again that the engineering complexity and cost of this monstrous viaduct is not necessary with other routes.

“Commenting, Mayor Dave Hodgson said: ‘This will be a once in a generation investment by the government that will bring more jobs and prosperity for our Borough. That’s why we’ve produced a thorough response to the Government’s plans, based on our analysis and our conversations with residents and Parish Councils over recent weeks. It’s vital that the benefits of the railway are maximised while negative impacts are minimised and the need for the demolition of homes is removed, and we’ve demonstrated how to achieve that.'”

BFARe Comment: BBC have had a massive push back from residents to Route E and the Council’s plans and lobbying of East West Rail. They are not listening.  We believe that their “thorough response” will once again not reflect the views and concerns of the residents.  The mayor and his supporters will once again push ahead with their unilateral decision that was made without Council debate, without a vote and without 2019 resident consultation. It is based on Victorian Economics. Why are other towns investing in out of town stations, and Bedford not? It is this attitude that has seen the decline in Bedford as a town under the stewardship of this Mayor.

“I have always made local jobs and a thriving local economy a top priority, and I know what a huge positive difference this project can make. If we passed up this opportunity for investment in vital infrastructure to link us directly with the thriving economies of Oxford and Cambridge, future generations would look back in disbelief. Our response is instead about making the most of the opportunity, and I thank everyone who has contributed to this process so far.”

BFARe Comment: The vast majority of the jobs and economic benefits are available without the train line coming through Bedford Midland. That is according to the Council’s own figures. Bear in mind the economic benefit figures touted by the Mayor have been compiled with confirmation bias to sell the Mayor’s decision – truth and transparency is not the byword of the Council’s behaviour with regard to demonstrating the economic benefit and disbenefit to Bedford.

The current consultation by the East West Rail Company follows the Government’s decision in March 2020 to select a Route Option passing through Bedford rather than bypassing the town to the south due to the lower environmental impact and the greater economic benefit of the route via Bedford.

BFARe Comment: EWR state that no comparative Environmental Statement or Environmental Impact Assessment was made between routes in the 2019 consultation or 2020 decision. When pushed – they state that the 15 factors had no objective scoring mechanism – rather the decision was made on a subjective basis on a “balance of factors”. This is a nationally significant project and a subjective decision-making process cannot be justified.

“Their previously rejected ‘Route B’ bypassing Bedford to the south via Wixams could have seen the demolition of 150 homes in Wixams and would have passed very close close to villages south of Bedford. Route B would also have passed through more extensive areas of flood plain, requiring longer viaducts and extensive mitigation measures to tackle flood risk and ecological effects. Network Rail plans show a southern route crossing the river on a viaduct right next to Great Barford

BFARe Comment: The 150 homes in Wixams is scaremongering. In the 2e document B11 there are other options for Wixams such as alignments A1, A2 and A3.  The number of buildings impacted are significantly less (see screenshot) – with only 5/3/4 homes respectively.  Touting a figure of 150 homes being destroyed by a Southern route is simply to sell their disingenuous story that Route E is better.  They only wish to confuse the constituents.  Were it not for the BFARe research, how would anyone even know they are scaremongering?!

Route B for example is 7km shorter, it is straighter and much flatter.  In version 2E of EWR’s assessment it stated that 1.48km of viaduct would be needed.  Whereas, due to the undulating nature of the countryside the Route E alignments will need between 4.2km and 7.2km of viaduct.  That is a lot of extra embodied carbon and concrete to offset requiring more materials and energy to build a longer route meaning extra Diesel fuel to run.  Even if electrified it will use extra energy.

“Cllr Michael Headley, Bedford Borough Council Portfolio Holder with responsibility for Rail, added: ‘The Government’s decision for the line to serve Bedford itself not only means more jobs and more economic growth, but also avoids the greater problems that a route south of Bedford would have caused. It is of course totally understandable that residents impacted by the chosen route would rather it went somewhere else. But that would mean a reduced economic benefit and fewer jobs, while also causing greater environmental and community impacts elsewhere.'”

BFARe Comment: Cllr Headley had proved himself to be biased in his statements, and not approaching the issue in an even-handed manner.  Southern Routes have similar challenges to Route E – but they are shorter, flatter, straighter, simpler to deploy and more environmentally friendly.  They avoid even more freight through Bedford town. A Southern route avoids 5-10 years of disruption to the town’s ability to function and the construction of restructuring of vital roads and bridges.  It avoids the destruction of homes and lives.  The economic benefit calculations need recalculating to reflect the COST to the town in building this route.

Bedford Borough Council’s draft response to the East West Rail Company consultation will be discussed at a virtual public meeting of all councillors taking place at 6:30pm on Wednesday 2nd June. The Council’s draft response to the consultation can be found at item 4 here, where there will also be a link to watch the meeting live and after the event on YouTube.

BFARE Comment: Please write to your councillor now to express your concerns.  Their e-mail address can be found here:

Letter writing guidance can be found here:

BFARe FACT CHECK: Council Announces Consultation Report to EWR will Seek to Maximise Benefits and Minimise Impacts
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