East West Rail Link
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It has been announced that East West Rail will be stopping at Bedford Midland station, connecting the town directly to Cambridge and Oxford.
This ‘Central Section’ builds on the ‘Western Section’, connecting Oxford and Bicester with services through to Bedford.
Some may think that this confirmation is good news for Bedford residents. Increased connectivity for the town they say will bring more opportunities to travel for work and leisure, as well as supporting our economic growth and prosperity, attracting businesses and jobs.
Recent modelling in the Bedford Borough Council Rail Strategy showed that East West Rail is forecast to bring over £20million of additional economic activity to our Borough. This could be additional investment, businesses, and jobs. The route selected is set out below and exits Bedford to the north between Clapham and Brickhill.
This is not good news for the north Beds villages in particular those situated along the A6. In March 2019 the Borough submitted its response to the East West Rail consultation which put forward 5 potential routes. This report was not submitted to all Councillors for approval and was not approved by Full Council, further highlighting the democratic deficit within the Borough Council, where, as we have seen previously, the Mayor takes decisions without consulting either councillors or local residents. The full report is available here. Set out below are paragraphs 2.9 – 2.14.
2.9 If all the impacts in this section are added together, the potential economic benefits of a Bedford Midland route are £12.36m pa (15%) higher than a route south of Bedford.
New Settlement Opportunities for the Future
2.10 The Council recognises that one aim of the EWR Central section is to support new settlements in the Arc (and for new settlements to enhance the case for the railway)
2.11 During the preparation of its emerging Local Plan the Council recognised that it would be beneficial to allow the newly created and expanded communities to the south of Bedford to mature before introducing further change. This means that growth opportunities in Wootton, Shortstown, Wixams and Stewartby are limited for the duration of the Plan.
2.12 The Plan also considered the merits of four new settlement proposals, at Colworth (Sharnbrook), Twinwoods, Thurleigh and Wyboston. Whilst none of these has yet be allocated, it is likely that their promoters will submit them again to be considered for allocation the future plans.
2.13 The council is committed to an immediate review of the current submitted Local Plan once it is adopted, so as to incorporate the new Standard Method of calculating housing need. Each of the potential new settlements, ranging in size from 4,500 to 10,000 dwellings, will be considered for inclusion in that Plan if submitted.
2.14 Each site is to the north of Bedford and would be better served by the northern route for EWR through Bedford Midland, as would much of the development potential between Bedford and Cambridge. In the council’s view, therefore there is little or no scope to count further development south of Bedford against the benefits of a southerly route for EWR
So the Borough now has to progress its new Local Plan within 3 years and whilst the new Local Plan is starting its progress through its various stages of preparation and consultation it would appear from the Borough’s consultation response above the decision may already have been made by the Mayor to put ALL future development in the form of new so called ’Garden Villages’, large new towns, in North Bedfordshire.
To give a sense of the size of these new towns, the Wixams settlement is scheduled to have 4,500 homes, to date only 2,000 have been built.
As we at KNBG know the A6 north of Bedford already cannot cope with such a huge increase in traffic, residents in the A6 corridor villages already spend up to 45 minutes queuing at the Sainsbury’s roundabout each morning to either get into town or to access the Great Ouse Way and the Frank Branston Way where they form further long queues morning and evening. The construction of the any of the 3 developments at Twinwoods, Thurleigh or Colworth (Sharnbrook) will have a significant impact on the traffic generated on the A6 particularly when combined with the new traffic the developments between Rushden and Higham Ferrers where an additional 2,500 homes are planned by East Northants Council. So how does the Mayor and officers think the A6 can possibly accommodate this amount of traffic? No amount of tinkering with the A6 will render it capable of accommodating the number of cars the above developments are likely to generate.
The “Issues and Options Consultation” into the new Local Plan is now planned for July. This will give residents the opportunity to give their views on whether they want these large new settlements or whether they would prefer to see a proportionate amount of organic growth in the villages or whether they feel the development should be south of Bedford where it would be situated along and close to the main arterial roads M1, A428/421.
A site was put forward in the last Local Plan consultation at the Stewartby Brickworks site however the current Local Plan 2030 only allocates 100 houses here!!
Why has the Mayor taken the decision to “….allow the newly created and expanded communities to the south of Bedford to mature before introducing further change…..”
This means that already planned growth opportunities in Wixams (only 2,000 homes built out of 4,500 already approved) and Stewartby (a brownfield site for up to 1,000 new homes) are disregarded.
This makes absolutely no sense particularly when The Mayor has said that the Council will fund a new Midland Mainline/Thameslink station at Wixams.