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East West Rail – growth and prosperity or an act of blind faith?

23rd March 2023

At a recent Westminster Forum event called ‘Next steps for the Oxford to Cambridge region’, East West Rail Company Head of Communications Hannah Staunton made it clear that the business case for the railway will not be published any time soon.

The comments come after two years of CPRE Bedfordshire and BFARe (Bedford for a Reconsultation) making persistent requests to have sight of this document. Experienced rail industry experts have told us that the absence of the business case is most unusual, and possibly irregular. It is normal practice to publish a business case for public information and scrutiny from the early stages of a major infrastructure project and CPRE Bedfordshire are concerned that we are still waiting.

Local campaigners have long been sceptical that the unpopular and environmentally damaging northern route proposed for East West Rail (EWR) in Bedford Borough can really be more cost effective than a southern route aligned, as far as possible, with the A421 southern bypass.

For the route in Cambridgeshire, EWR Co have said that they wish to “take advantage of the already established A428 transport corridor” from the Black Cat roundabout on the A1 to Cambridge, recognising the substantial cost and environmental benefits of doing so. We wonder why the EWR Co doesn’t recognise that the same benefits can be achieved in Bedfordshire by using the A421 transport corridor from Bedford to the Black Cat roundabout via a route running south of Bedford.

Hannah Staunton explained that “What we will keep doing is making the case as it grows and that is done over a number of years.”

That sounds like EWR Co are making it up as they go along and don’t see the need to justify the choices they are making even though they are intending to spend billions of pounds of public money.

EWR Co argue that the business case document is owned by the Department of Transport, and it will be up to them to decide “when – and if” to publish.

Wherever responsibility for publication lies, with an announcement on the final route choice expected in May, the lack of a published business case shows a blatant contempt for the public’s reasonable expectations for a minimum level of transparency.