Please find YouTube links at the end of this article to access each meeting.
Bedford Borough Council recently openly invited Borough constituents to ask questions in an attempt at a two-way public meeting concerning the East West Rail’s preferred route through Bedford as part of the Oxford to Cambridge Railway Arc. What occurred was, at the very best, a defensive response to constituent’s concerns. At the very worst, the Mayor and the Councillors behaved with contempt and arrogance towards the constituents who have genuine concerns regarding their homes, livelihoods, businesses, quality of life and their future as Bedford Borough residents.
Cllr Headley’s “Mythology”
Cllr Headley seemed to be particularly defensive – rudely referring to the concerns of the public as “myths” and “misinformation” and “fantasy”, whilst continuing to propagate his own half-truths and factual inaccuracy:-
- Cllr Headley said 150 homes would need to be demolished at Wixams with a Southern route. This was only one of the options EWR looked at – the other options (Phase 2e A1, A2 and A3) near Wixams needed only 5, 3 or 4 demolitions respectively.
- Cllr Headley said there had been “masses of studies” into the old varsity line or similar. So far, he has failed to present any documents to support that claim. In fact, the Council’s own commissioned Feb 2019 Kilborn report states that there are “no insurmountable obstructions” in a Southern route, and says BBC should approach EWR about that as the preferred route between Bedford and Cambridge. A Freedom of Information request has been sent to the Council to ask for this evidence of home destruction along the Southern route, and as yet, this has not been made available.
- Cllr Headley repeatedly states that EWR’s objective is only to maintain current freight capacity. In Strategic Objectives of EWR’s Outline Business Case it clearly states: “Maintain current capacity for rail freight and appropriate provision for anticipated future growth;”
Cllr Headley states the infrastructure to accommodate freight at each end of the line is not yet available – he hints that this means little to no freight. Jon Shortland presented a slide illustrating the route including as yet unavailable extensions beyond Cambridge – with a link to Port of Felixstowe being obvious on that slide.
- Cllr Headley persists in pointing to the £6.23m incremental economic benefit of coming through Bedford. This is just 0.13% of the total Bedford GVA. It is embarrassingly small. It is also based on calculations made in February 2019 – allegedly before BBC knew about the six-track option. What is the new net economic cost/benefit calculation now that the devastation to the town and rural communities has been revealed? Road remodelling, bridge remodelling, homes and businesses demolished – now render £6.23m an obsolete figure.
Cllr Headley is the portfolio holder for EWR and he is the point of liaison between EWR and the Council and Bedford Borough residents. It is his own lack of public engagement and communication that will have caused public confusion. It is an insult he labels the lack of public understanding as “myths” and “fantasies”. Perhaps he could concentrate on providing factually accurate information in a balanced way, rather than continually selling the council’s flawed vision.
EWR’s Six Track Preferred Option
The Council’s recently commissioned SLC report into the need for only 4 tracks through Midland station to accommodate East West Rail trains was heralded as saving homes in Poet’s area. This report gives false hope as it is not based on EWR’s future operational capacity requirements.
To future-proof the rail line, EWR states that they will build a railway “for the next hundred years.” Specifically, EWR’s ambition is for six passenger trains per hour, (not just 4) plus 1 freight train each way per hour. However, Network Rail is forecasting 30% growth in freight traffic by 2030. This means by the time EWR line from Bedford to Cambridge opens, the SLC report is irrelevant and redundant.
So, exactly when did the Council know about the line running through Bedford requiring six tracks? The answer they spin to the public when asked this question is very inconsistent. At different points over the last few weeks Cllr Headley and the Mayor have stated that the Council first heard of the six track option:
- Summer 2019,
- August 2019,
- 17th July 2019
- 31st July 2019
Then In the Look East interview on 11th May the Mayor said it was 2020.
So which is it? Not that it matters. By not revealing this “blight” to residents until 31st March 2021 they have severely curtailed Poets’ residents’ legal options. EWR announced the route decision in January 2020 – Poets’ residents had 3 months to raise a Judicial Review – after that the opportunity for a judicial review runs out.
The BBC continually “sell” Route E as less environmentally damaging than Southern routes. As well documented, EWR did not perform a detailed comparative environmental impact assessment during the 2019 route selection process. If the BBC were provided with the comparative evidence as to why “Route E is the least environmentally damaging” then they need to publicly provide this information to their constituents.
Jon Shortland mentioned the amount of viaduct required for Route E is higher than Southern routes due to flood plain. However, EWR’s documents state Route E alignments 1 needs 4.2km of viaducts and alignments 8/9 a massive 7.2km of viaducts to reach beyond the East Coast Mainline. Compare this with the estimated viaducts required for Southern Route B which is just 1.2km to get to the same point. This means significantly less embodied carbon to construct.
Attracting Investment to Bedford
The economic benefits of having the route come through the town were discussed. The Mayor then gave anecdotal evidence that there is a queue of business wanting to invest in Bedford. However, he also stated that most of these investors are looking to establish businesses along the existing travel corridors – not the town centre. He failed to state why this makes a route through town more compelling than a well-served parkway station along the existing travel corridor. None of the points he made demonstrated how a route through town clearly provided our only opportunity for inward business investment. This same anecdotal evidence of investment seems to also be available, if not more so, with a Southern route. We are waiting to understand this further.
He also mentioned that new investing businesses would do so because they would like rail connectivity to London; but there is already a line to London from Bedford. One of the many patronising comments he made during the information sessions was regarding the fact that this line to London already exists when an intelligent, articulate resident from Great Barford challenged him on the Council’s continued insistence on the unnecessary route through Bedford despite overwhelming opposition from constituents.
References are available for all the facts listed above.
The Council appears to be without interest in engaging constituents in this “consultation.” They decided the fate of this route without public consultation, without council debate, without vote, without affected constituent involvement back in 2019.
The Council seems to think it has a remit to decide without consultation what is good for the constituents while overseeing the decline in Bedford. It makes undemocratic and ethically questionable decisions without recourse.
EWR are pandering to BBC for political expediency, something EWR have not been afforded by Cambridge councils.
We note that the new Mayor of Cambridge and Peterborough is calling for an even handed non-biased approach to the EWR consultation with regard to routes. Bedford Borough Council is not affording its residents the same courtesy, but then neither servitude nor even courtesy seem to be in BBC’s vocabulary.
May 16, 2021