Local economy and building new towns more important than countryside and village life in north Bedfordshire
On 15th March, representatives from Parish Councils in north Bedfordshire, Borough Councillors and CPRE Bedfordshire joined in a meeting with the Rail Minister to put their case for a reconsideration of East West Rail’s Preferred Route for the railway in Bedford. When the East West Rail Company published their latest Route Alignment Consultation proposals on 31st March, they were disappointed to find that their concerns had been totally ignored.
The current consultation proposals look only at Route E which calls at Bedford Midland station, then runs across open countryside towards a station on the East Coast Main Line at St Neots or Tempsford and gives no further consideration to route B, the route that would stop at a new station at Wixams then following the A421 southern bypass dual carriageway.
While East West Rail (EWR) is a scheme that can bring benefits by reducing car journeys and heavy goods vehicles on our roads we believe that the route, as recommended by the Mayor in his consultation response in March 2019, has been chosen for the wrong reasons and represents a massive, missed opportunity to improve our quality of life in Bedford. A southern routes out of Bedford would achieve the same goals but adversely affect fewer households, communities and villages as well as better meet the environmental and decarbonisation targets.
The Parish Councils most affected have combined to form a campaign group, BFARe (Bedford For A Reconsultation), supported by CPRE Bedfordshire and KeepNorthBedsGreen. The group has launched a petition which asks the Minister of State for Transport to instruct EWR to re-consult on a shortlist of the routes making environmental considerations the focus. Residents are encouraged to sign it.
The petition recommends that an adjusted Route B is considered, as this is the most consistent with government environmental and decarbonisation policy. So far more than 2,000 residents have signed the petition.
The alignment options recommended for consideration in Bedford are:
Alignment 1 (top) Alignment 9 (bottom)
© East West Rail
Now that the consultation proposals have been published, we can see just how damaging the options are.
EWR’s key Objectives are to develop a railway that maximises opportunities to deliver economic growth and large scale housing development. Although protecting against environmental damage is one of the alleged considerations, each of two options will ruin large swathes of rural character north Bedfordshire. The detailed drawings show the lengthy embankments and viaducts and the deep cuttings that will be necessary; for example, to cross the river and the A6 by Clapham, EWR plan to build a massive viaduct over 1km long and up to 18m high before cutting through Carriage Drive. An absolute monstrosity in the making.
East West Rail
A route through Bedford will require demolition of many houses in Bedford itself, add noise and air pollution, – as well as adding to the severe traffic congestion on routes into Bedford and Bedford station. EWR have plans to build multi-storey car parks but there has been no traffic modelling to assess the strain that will put on the existing road network.
The Mayor’s decision to support Route E was not made known to the public or debated within the Borough Council before it was submitted to EWR as a statement of council policy. Borough Councillors did not have sight of the ‘Borough’s March 2019 consultation response until October 2019 when a request for disclosure of this was made at Full Council and it has only recently been uploaded to the Borough’s website following further requests.
In supporting Route E in March 2019, it appears that the Mayor hoped to pre-empt consultation on the new Local Plan by using EWR as a justification for development in the Northern Rural area.
The Mayor’s response to EWR in March 2019 referred to the aim of EWR to open up opportunities for new settlements in the Ox-Cam Arc. The response anticipated that new settlement proposals, at Colworth, Twinwoods, Thurleigh and Wyboston would be considered for the next Local Plan. It comments that each of these sites “are to the north of Bedford and would be better served by a northern route for EWR through Bedford Midland.” As it happens the chosen route will not aid development as there is no station planned this side of Tempsford, which could as easily be reached by one of the southern routes.
Bedford Borough Council’s Local Plan Review will commence second stage consultation this summer and will build on the Issues & Options Paper of Summer 2020 (see link below). This puts forward six options for strategic housing growth in Bedford, including two EWR linked options. The Borough has a target of an additional 15,000 houses in the next plan period.
“Major sites submitted so far for the next Local Plan include:
– Twinwoods New Town, (6,000 -7,000 dwellings) stretching from Twinwoods/Clapham north to include Milton Ernest and Bletsoe
– New Town at Sharnbrook/Colworth (4,000 dwellings)
– The Dennybrook New Town, Wyboston (7,500- 10,150 dwellings).“
The impact of the New Towns will be staggering, bearing in mind the roads and additional infrastructure that will be needed to support the creation of two new towns, each one more than twice the size of Ampthill.
The rural character of the area will be shattered, both by the railway line and by the new towns that the Borough Council intends will follow.
By contrast, an alternative, running along the A421 transport corridor south of Bedford, put forward at the earlier EWR consultation, avoids the majority of the pitfalls of the northern route, providing options for a shorter, flatter, straighter route that passes through an area that is already developed for commercial activity.
We encourage local people to make their views known to the consultation and to deliver a strong message to East West Rail and the Borough Council that Route E in north Bedford is totally unacceptable.
References and further reading
East West Rail Main Consultation report March 2021: https://eastwestrail-production.s3.eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/public/EAS060_ConDoc_310321_Digital_MASTER-1.pdf
EWR Route Option Consultation January 2019: https://eastwestrail-production.s3.eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/public/MediaObjectFiles/fe0f74c338/EWR-Consultation-Document.pdf
Bedford Borough Council Response to EWR Consultation March 2019
Bedford Borough Council: ISSUES AND OPTIONS – CONSULTATION PAPER Summer 2020: https://edrms.bedford.gov.uk/OpenDocument.aspx?id=0oGrcg%2bElvEgGZR6su3cQA%3d%3d&name=Issues%20and%20Options%20Paper.pdf
Bedford Borough Council: Call for Sites Map Local Plan Review: https://bluefoxtech.co.uk/demos/bedford-published-sites/#/center/-0.4205,52.1989/rotation/0.19