Harpur Ward Letter: The REAL Cost of Not Engaging Your Constituents
Councillor Colleen Atkins
Councillor Louise Jackson
Bedford Borough Council
21st May 2021
RE: 2019 Harpur Ward Constituent Engagement during East West Rail Route Consultation Process
Dear Councillors Atkins and Jackson,
As a resident of Harpur ward, I am writing to you to express my concerns regarding the lack of Harpur constituent engagement during the 2019 East West Rail public consultation process. Bedford Borough Council played a very critical role in East West Rail’s decision to announce their preferred Northern Route (“Route E”) through Bedford. This route runs alongside Harpur Ward and has a direct impact on residents. It is well documented that the Council lobbied East West Rail to make a decision in favour of Route E (EWR Preferred Route Option Announcement Page 65).
As a representative, democratic body, elected officials should engage their constituents in matters of their concern and represent their views and needs to the larger Borough Council and to East West Rail. During the 2019 EWR Route Consultation process, you did not engage the residents of Harpur ward. We were not aware of the impact of Route E. We were not asked to engage in an informed debate regarding which route would be the best for Harpur Ward.
As members of the mayor’s executive, you will have been privy to a number of key documents that detailed the impact that Route E would have on our Harpur neighbourhoods, particularly the Poets’ Neighbourhood. You recently wrote to residents of Harpur Ward saying that you did not have knowledge of the requirement for two new additional tracks and the need to acquire land and demolish homes. It is now very clear that the Council had knowledge that Route E potentially required land purchase.
North of Bedford station to accommodate the two new tracks (Appendix 1 – Letter from Cllr Headley to Will Gallagher, 30 Aug 2019). Yet, I cannot find evidence of your engagement with your Harpur constituents to discuss the impact of this potential land purchase. Had the mayor’s executive shared your knowledge of the threatened demolition of a Bedford town neighbourhood when the EWR decision for Route E was announced in January 2020, the residents could have legally challenged the decision under Judicial Review. Deliberate concealment of the route impact information to the residents of the Poets’ neighbourhood now means that their chance to pursue a Judicial Review of the Route E decision has legally expired.
I cannot think why the Council kept their support for Route E behind closed doors and without there being a full council-wide debate on the route options. Why was the Council’s backing of Route E not put before a full council vote?
In addition to the potential destruction to the Poets neighbourhood, there are serious and life-changing concerns that Harpur constituents should have known about before you supported the mayor in pursuing Route E.
Harpur residents should have been told about the following:
- The new EWR line will NOT be electrified from the start. This means that all trains, passenger and freight, will need to be pulled by diesel engines through the town centre (https://mailchi.mp/eastwestrail/press-release-3920522) . Electrification of the line will be an extremely costly if not impossible exercise and is not in the existing plans for building the line. (EAS060– TechDoc Appendix Section 5.19. Electrification)
- The new line will carry long and heavy diesel freight. At the outset, freight trains will operate one each way per hour (TechDoc Freight 5.11) . Thereafter the level of freight will be increased according to demand. The freight trains will be up to 775 metres long and will be moving through town at 40MPH. The noise and vibration of freight running up a steep viaduct above the Ouse and the A6 will carry well across all of the Harpur ward affecting the lives of the residents.
- The construction blight in building Route E will be long and extensive. The Bromham Road bridge will have to be, yet again, reconstructed to accommodate the line. The Great Ouse Way Bridge will need to be raised, causing tremendous traffic congestion (TechDoc 1 8.5.11). A steep 880M viaduct will need to be built across the A6, Paula Radcliffe Way bypass. The level of traffic chaos from roads being blocked from all of this activity and increased construction lorries travelling through our town centre and access roads will last for years.
- The town centre accessible countryside and park land will also be heavily impacted by Route E. The community orchard, Park Wood, Clapham Park and most importantly the ancient Clapham Park Wood are easily accessible for Harpur residents and have provided a much needed mental health respite during the last year of lock downs. As Councillor Jackson is portfolio holder for Health and Well Being, I would expect this to be of particular concern for you.
- The town centre will see increased traffic congestion in establishing Midland Station as the only interchange between Midland Mainline and East West Rail. There should be another South Bedford park and ride interchange to take the pressure off of our town centre roads. It is just common sense. We need traffic taken away from the Bromham Road, Ashburnham Road and Midland Road areas, not to create more traffic and parking issues for Harpur residents.
- Bedford breaches air quality standards on a regular basis as this graph of nitrous oxide levels in Bedford during the time of the route consultation clearly demonstrates (Source: DeFRA). The levels of NO2 will worsen with the increased use of freight trains and East West Rail commuter traffic running through the town centre. My son suffers from extreme asthma. I know only too well how much salbutamol inhalant he requires to get through any given day as an indication of how poor the air quality is on that day.
Finally, it is not acceptable for Bedford Councillors to justify their lack of consultation with the public because it was “East West Rail’s consultation process.” Bedford Borough Council made choices that impacted their constituents when they sent their consultation response to East West Rail. And, it is now very evident that East West Rail also failed miserably in their own consultation with Bedford residents and you did nothing to ask for this situation to be improved. Impacted wards (i.e. Poets) did not receive EWR consultation post cards, you yourselves did not flyer the Harpur households asking them to participate in the consultation. There was woefully little public announcement from any Bedford Borough Council source.
Please, may I politely ask you to rescind your vote for this damaging Northern Route E through the Harpur Ward of Bedford. If you will not rescind your vote, then I would like a detailed explanation as to why you remain in favour of this route along with evidenced business case analysis as to the economic benefit it will bring to offset the personal, environmental and physical disbenefits that it will bring to Harpur Ward residents.
CC: BFARe Campaign Page – www.bfare.org.uk