Mayor attacks countryside charity over council policy on East West Rail

20th May 2021

CPRE Bedfordshire responds to comments from the Mayor of Bedford, Dave Hodgson, as reported in the local press.

 

It’s a shame the Mayor has resorted to cheap jibes and misinformation in an attempt to defend Bedford Borough Council’s Policy on East West Rail. Mayor Dave issued a statement repeating the remarks he made at one of the East West Rail ‘listening meetings’ last week, when he said ‘it’s CPRE Bedfordshire, not CPRE North Bedfordshire.’ He suggested that CPRE Bedfordshire only seem interested in the area north of Bedford and seem to show little identification with the villages and countryside south of the town.

Perhaps he should learn more about our work with local action groups, communities and parish councils to help deliver positive outcomes right across Bedfordshire.

He might find it particularly interesting to read about our biennial Living Countryside Awards, which celebrate the people and projects making a difference across the whole county. This week staff, trustees and volunteers will be out and about visiting projects who have submitted entries for our LCA Awards 2021.

CPRE Bedfordshire also have a team of energetic planning volunteers who have been challenging Central Bedfordshire Council’s enthusiasm for excessive development in the south of the county, for many years. The team are also supporting local people to oppose Central Bedfordshire’s plans for an M1 to A6 link road, through the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The Mayor is surely clutching at straws when he says a Wixams Parkway station, supported by CPRE Bedfordshire, would involve the demolition of 150 houses. He knows full well that EWR’s proposal for a split-level Interchange station with Midland Mainline at Wixams, involves nothing of the kind. It makes a big change from the Mayor’s past rejection of this idea when he was known to say that a Wixams Parkway for EWR would result in a station in a field in the middle of nowhere!

Maybe the Mayor is sore with CPRE Bedfordshire because we pointed out in the meeting last week that these ‘listening meetings’ are happening two years too late. We said two years ago that the Council should engage with residents before submitting their March 2019 consultation response. CPRE Bedfordshire repeatedly challenged the Council to stop being so secretive about their ambitions for Bedford associated with East West Rail. We also consistently highlighted the democratic deficits of the Council’s involvement in England’s Economic Heartlands and their coordination of the roll out of the OxCam Strategy.

He may also be sore about the fact that last week, we called out a senior Council official for saying that EWR have claimed environmental impacts in north Bedfordshire can be more easily managed, than environmental impacts associated with a southern route. When questioned about this he referred CPRE Bedfordshire to para 5.4.16 on page 63 of EWRs Technical report. In reply CPRE Bedfordshire have pointed out that this paragraph refers to a comparison of northern and southern routes in Cambridgeshire and has no relevance to Bedford Borough at all. When we raised this with the official involved, he told us he didn’t understand the point we were making!

CPRE Bedfordshire are asking the Council to acknowledge that the reference to para 5.4.16 by this official was incorrect and based on a misinterpretation of the EWR report.

CPRE Bedfordshire say that EWR environmental assessments to date give no recognition of any environmental sensitivities of the route between Clapham and St Neots or Tempsford. EWR and the Council continue not to recognise these sensitivities, despite the fact of the substantial groundswell of opinion expressed by residents, in opposition to Route E in Bedford Borough.

CPRE Bedfordshire are asking the Council to acknowledge these sensitivities, and be open and transparent about their position, which attaches greater value to imagined economic benefits and housing growth opportunities, and minimises the destructive impacts on landscape and rural communities from a route across north Bedfordshire.

 

The comments from the Mayor were in response to this news release:

Mayor recognises impact of East West Rail proposals on the Poets area of Bedford but not on the countryside

 

CPRE Bedfordshire, the Countryside Charity, welcomes the fact that Dave Hodgson, The Mayor of Bedford, has at last come to his senses and understands the devastating environmental impact that the proposed Route E will have on the Poets area of Bedford town.

However, it is disappointing that the Mayor has only expressed his opposition to the six track proposal and its effect on the Poets area, following the outcry from residents. If the Mayor really cared about the impact of EWR on Bedford Borough residents, both in the town and countryside, rather than how the railway supports his own unsustainable growth agenda,  he would have raised this long ago. The Mayor admitted in a recent television interview that East West Rail had given him advance sight of some of the main proposals more than a year before the current consultation report was published.

We look forward to him belatedly recognising the environmental destruction that will be imposed on other parts of the Bedford urban area (e.g. Ampthill Road) by a passenger and freight carrying railway, and the adverse impact on the North Bedfordshire countryside of the new railway and the proposed New Towns that East West Rail is designed to encourage.

The East West Rail Company’s proposals also entail hugely expensive civil engineering works, including a massive and environmentally destructive, 15m high viaduct over the A6 and the River Great Ouse Valley and very deep and technically challenging cuttings in rural north Bedfordshire. Works in the Bedford urban area in the proposals include changes to St Johns Station, and a replacement of the recently completed railway bridge on Bromham Road, which will cause major disruption to people’s lives for many years to come.

It’s time that The Mayor admitted that he has made a mistake and that a southern route, based on Route B with a Parkway Station at Wixams, is a far cheaper option, less disruptive in civil engineering terms, and one which will have the least environmental impact on both urban and rural areas.

North Bedfordshire countryside
Quernmore landscape