Representatives from parish councils in north Bedford met the Rail Minister a few weeks ago 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 its Route Alignment Consultation proposals on 31 March 2021, CPRE Bedfordshire said these parish councils were shocked to find that their concerns had been “totally ignored“.
The group have 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.
The petition recommends that an adjusted Route B is considered, as this is the most consistent with government environmental and decarbonisation policy. So far nearly 2,000 residents have signed the petition.
CPRE Bedfordshire said that now that the consultation proposals have been published, it can see why the parish council’s appeal to the Minister had not been heeded.
East West Rail say that the key Project Objectives they have been told to prioritise are to develop a railway that maximises opportunities to deliver economic growth and large scale housing development.
Although protecting against environmental damage is said to be one of the factors taken into account, CPRE Bedfordshire said that environmental considerations have clearly been given “very little weight“.
It said a route through Bedford would bring noise and air pollution, and add to the traffic congestion on routes into Bedford and Bedford station.
Adding EWR’s plans to build multi-storey car parks are apparently without any concerns about the strain that all these additional car journeys will put on the road network. Residents of the Poets area have been told that their homes are at risk of demolition.
CPRE Bedfordshire said the fact that the route across north Bedford cuts a swathe across quiet open countryside and rural villages doesn’t really get a mention.
It said that this is clearly because the object of the line is to “unlock north Bedford” for substantial housing development. Which it said will shatter the rural character of the area, both by the railway line and by the new housing settlements that the Borough Council intends will follow.
The impact of these new settlements will be “staggering“, bearing in mind the roads and additional infrastructure that will be needed to support the creation of two new towns the size of Ampthill.
CPRE Bedfordshire said that by contrast, an alternative route running along the A421 transport corridor south of Bedford, put forward at the earlier EWR consultation, would avoid 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.
BFARe and CPRE Bedfordshire are encouraging 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 that Route E in north Bedford is totally unacceptable.
In response to the statement by CPRE Bedfordshire, a spokesperson for East West Rail Company said:
“The decision to choose Route Option E was firmly rooted in feedback and observations we received from local communities in the non-statutory public consultation we held in early 2019. Seven thousand people and organisations gave their time and expertise to respond to the consultation and Route Option E was ranked highest on four of our five key criteria: benefits for transport users, supporting economic growth, supporting new homes and environmental considerations.
“On the environmental front, Route Option B would have passed through more extensive areas of flood plain which would require longer viaducts and extensive mitigation measures to prevent the exacerbation of flood risk and ecological effects downstream. This adds to both construction and maintenance costs.
“Route Option E also avoids impacts on: the setting of the historic park and garden near Moggerhanger; the extensive area of ancient woodland between Cople and Northill; the top grade agricultural land between Great Barford and Blunham; and historic landfill sites south of Bedford. All of these would be affected by Route Option B, but not Route Option E. The landfill sites in particular pose a significant environmental constraint due to the likelihood of land contamination which would require remediation at significant cost.
“In addition, Route Option E performs better than Route Option B for the purpose of East West Rail’s Net Zero Carbon objective. Route Option E would mean a shorter length of viaducts, a reduced flood and geotechnical risk and less complex solutions that would contribute to reducing the carbon emissions during the construction stage.
“We also undertook detailed economic modelling that indicates Route Option E would provide the greatest benefits for transport users and, by connecting key areas of economic activity, will contribute to wider economic benefits for both Bedford and the wider region.
“EWR Co will continue to work with the responsible highway authorities to appropriately consider the impacts of the scheme on local traffic and identify any associated mitigation measures to support the development and its impacts within Bedford.”
The East West Rail Main Consultation report March 2021 can be found here.