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Shock Tory u-turn seeking years of delay to East West Rail defeated

June 3, 2021 6:00 PM
Originally published by Bedford Borough Liberal Democrats

Bedford StationAn extraordinary attempt by Bedford Borough Conservative Councillors to reverse several years of progress towards an East West Railway between Oxford and Cambridge via Bedford and add at least three years of delay was defeated in a Bedford Borough Council meeting last night. The shock move saw the Conservatives U-turn on their previous support for a route through Bedford itself, which they had presented to the public throughout previous stages and the last council and mayoral elections.

The Tories proposed that the Council should demand that the Government reconsider all previous routes including those which bypassed Bedford altogether to the south, despite the fact that some of these routes would mean demolitions of homes and businesses in Wixams and would almost certainly kill off the long-awaited Wixams Thameslink station.

Southern routes were previously rejected by the Government because they would cause greater environmental harm in the countryside and deliver much reduced benefits for residents by making the railway less accessible and removing the connectivity that a new rail hub at Bedford would bring.

A delay would also cause years of uncertainty and anxiety for those whose homes would be blighted by potential demolitions on both southern and northern routes, because all five of the Government's wider route options would be back on the table.

The informal council meeting was held to debate the Council's draft East West Rail consultation response, which insists that the Government does not need to demolish homes in the Poets area and sets out a range of measures to minimise negative impacts of the construction and operation of the railway. It also sets out the case for getting maximum benefit from the scheme which will help deliver new jobs, homes and regeneration in Bedford town centre and economic growth and opportunities for the wider borough.

The Conservative amendment instead called for the government to re-run the previous stage of the project and the consultation which was held over two years ago. With preparatory work included, this would mean a minimum delay of at least three years and potentially see the entire project scrapped by the government in favour of the many competing infrastructure priorities across the country.

This would cause Bedford Borough to lose out on an East West Railway which the Council and local political parties had previously been united in calling for for decades, following the closure of the 'Varsity Line' in 1968.

Commenting, Bedford Borough Council Portfolio Holder with responsibility for Rail, Councillor Michael Headley said "The Conservatives lined up alongside all other parties in 2019 to support a route through Bedford because the additional opportunities and economic benefits for residents across the Borough were undeniable, and the Government agreed via its route option decision last year. Instead of taking responsibility for their actions, the Conservatives have u-turned and now seek to go back in time and add at least three years of delay to this vital infrastructure project for our Borough. If they were successful, the result would be that everybody loses out. It would vastly increase the number of homes blighted by facing potential demolition across all previous route options - and extend that blight for many more years. It would at best severely delay East West Rail, and quite possibly cause the government to scrap it altogether. This would waste decades of work towards a new east-west railway line via Bedford and cause current and future generations in Bedford Borough to lose out on its many benefits."

The Conservatives proposals were defeated, with 30 out of 41 votes against, and the Council's East West Rail consultation response was subsequently endorsed.

The East West Rail Company's consultation, which is available at www.eastwestrail.co.uk/consultation, closes on 9th June.

The Council's draft consultation response can be read at Item 4 here, where there is also a link to watch a video recording of last night's informal Full Council meeting.