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East West Rail – The Facts

February 24, 2021 6:29 PM

Bedford StationA New Railway from Oxford to Cambridge and Beyond

The Current Situation - 2021 Public Consultation

The East West Rail Company (EWR Co) is currently conducting the next phase of their consultation on the route between Oxford and Cambridge. This includes their detailed proposals for the route through Bedford Borough. Residents are encouraged to read the details of their proposals and to have their say at www.eastwestrail.co.uk/consultation. The consultation runs until 9th June.

Before formulating its own response to the consultation, which will be debated in a dedicated public meeting of all councillors taking place online on June 2nd, Bedford Borough Council has been keen to hear residents' views on the options presented. In addition to encouraging residents to submit their views to the EWR Co consultation, the Council asked for them too, in order to help inform its own response.

In addition to meetings with parish councils and affected residents, Bedford Borough Council held public meetings on Wednesday 12 May from 12pm-2pm (broadcast here) and Thursday 13 May from 6.30pm-8.30pm (broadcast here). You can follow those hyperlinks to see a Council presentation on the East West Rail project and current consultation (same content at each meeting), followed by question and answer sessions.

Bedford Borough Council commissioned SLC Rail, specialists in rail projects, to conduct a technical review in response to EWR's proposal under the current consultation for six tracks to run north of Bedford Midland station. The report (available here) shows that the service could run effectively using just the existing four lines, avoiding the need to demolish any homes in the Poets area.

Previously, in January 2020, the Government and the East West Rail Company (EWR Co) selected the preferred route option for East West Rail between Bedford and Cambridge.

This followed a public consultation by EWR Co on route options in January - March 2019.

The 2019 Consultation on the Route Options

EWR Co's 2019 consultation on the route options was promoted through a range of channels, including advertising in local publications, sending out press releases and distributing more than 120,000 postcard notifications to those within a broad consultation zone.

Almost 7,000 people gave feedback following six weeks of consultation on the five route options.

A full report by EWR Co on the consultation, detailing exactly how and on what the consultation took place, can be read here.

The Decision - Why the Government and the East West Rail Company Chose Route E

Following the extensive public consultation and detailed analysis and evaluation, Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps announced the preferred route on 30th January 2020. You can read his announcement here.

EWR Co reported that the preferred route option was selected because:

  • It delivers the best value for taxpayers, returning the most benefit for every pound spent.
  • It was the most popular option with people who responded to EWR Co's 2019 consultation
  • It delivers the best opportunities for supporting and enhancing the environment

EWR Co's Preferred Route Option Report, detailing why the Government and EWR Co chose the preferred route, can be read here

Bedford Borough Council's Position

Bedford Borough Council responded to the 2019 consultation to support a route that stops at Bedford Railway station. Alternative options bypassed Bedford altogether to the south, reducing the benefits to the borough. Those benefits include:

  • Jobs and economic growth: A route via Bedford station delivers an economic benefit £6.23m per year greater than a route south of Bedford.
  • Accessibility for Bedford Borough residents: By stopping in Bedford itself, this important new infrastructure and the many work and leisure opportunities it brings will be more accessible for residents across the Borough.
  • Wixams Station: Had a route south of Bedford been selected, the crucial Wixams station project was likely to have been killed off. Removing the uncertainty of the EWR route has enabled progress to be made over the last year for the Wixams station to be delivered by 2024, before the developer's contributions for building the station become out of time and kill off the project.
  • Connectivity: A route serving Bedford station links Bedford directly with other key economic centres, connecting several mainline rail routes including the Midland Mainline, enhancing Bedford Station's status as a hub and also bringing much-needed investment to the area around Bedford station itself - enabling housing and commercial development in a brown field urban area.

Other routes have been rejected by the government as the process has progressed over many, many years. Problems with the old closed route include that it would mean going through Priory Country Park and Danish Camp. Meanwhile routes via Wixams would need the demolition of at least 150 homes according to newly released Network Rail reports

Bedford Borough Council has published its response to the 2019 Route Options consultation on its website, here, while it is also available on EWR Co's website at appendix 10 to the Consultation Feedback Report here (from page 66).

The Council has Publicly Promoted this View for Many Years

Bedford Borough Council has given public support to a route via Bedford station for many years, including as far back as in its 2011 Allocations and Designations Plan and its Passenger Transport Strategy 2011 - 21.

The Council's Bedford Borough Local Plan 2030 gave explicit support to East West Rail going through Bedford Station. The Local Plan 2030 was subject to six separate rounds of public consultations between 2014 and 2018 (List here . The Local Plan 2030 is available to read in full here, with the section on East West Rail at section 12.31.

Promoting Public Awareness and Engagement

During the 2019 EWR Co consultation, Mayor Dave Hodgson encouraged local residents to take part in the consultation and made the case publicly for a route via Bedford station in a wide range of ways, including:

The Council produced a leaflet explaining and promoting a route via Bedford station and encouraging people to take part in the consultation.

The Council also emailed its Council emailed everyone on its 'Consultations' email list on 25th February 2019, to promote the consultation, including a link to it.

Cost and Economic Impact

The preferred route option is the second-cheapest of the five options EWR Co consulted on.

A route via Bedford station also delivers a greater wider economic benefit than a southern route. The preferred route is estimated to provide £114m in wider economic benefits, with the highest figure for any route to the south of Bedford being £104m. Further details are available in EWR Co's Preferred Route Option Report, which is available here.

The enhanced economic benefit of a route via Bedford station over a route bypassing the town to the south is estimated to be £6.2m per year.

Environmental and Landscape Impact

Following extensive consultation and analysis and evaluation of all of the route options, EWR Co concluded that Route E had the least Environmental Impact.

It found that the routes via Bedford station and Cambourne 'have the fewest problematic areas with potential direct impacts on irreplaceable or sensitive features and the lowest likely mitigation effort.'

A route to the south of Bedford would have threatened the RSPB Nature Reserve in Sandy.

Further details are available in EWR Co's Preferred Route Option Report, available here.

Route E is supported by Bedford Architectural, Archaeological & Local History Society

Noise

Bedford Borough Council is lobbying for the line to be electrified from the beginning, enabling quieter electric trains to run.

A recent report by the Railway Industry Association on rail electrification has made clear the overhwelming case for full electrification of East West Rail from the beginning - read more here.

On 18th February 2021, in answer to a Parliamentary Question on whether the entire East West Rail route will be electrified, Transport Minister Baroness Vere said: "The Government is committed to decarbonisation, including delivering a net-zero carbon railway. The case for the electrification of East West Rail is being considered, which includes consideration of full electrification along the whole route, as well as options for partial electrification using battery-electric hybrid rolling stock, or hydrogen traction."

Research has shown that noise disruption is greater in the case of roads than rail for residents. This is in addition to the wider environmental benefits of switching from car to rail.

EWR Co's analysis found that the noise impact of each of the 5 shortlisted route corridors, A to E, was similar for the communities within them.

Will it be a freight railway?

This is a fast, frequent 100mph passenger railway, devised and designed as a passenger railway with a business case based on passenger journeys. Like all railway lines, it may take some freight if there is demand for it but that is not the reason for the railway being built.

Does The Route Via Bedford Station Mean that the South Side of the Borough Loses Out?

No - we believe that there should be an East West Railway station in the south of the Borough as well, and continue to lobby for this to be included in the plans, maximising the considerable benefits of the railway for Bedford Borough residents.

Cross Party Consensus on a Route Via Bedford Station

All groups on the Council supported the Council's case for a route via Bedford station, with all group leaders putting their names to a joint statement in a Council leaflet which was produced to explain the case for east-west rail to directly serve Bedford:

Mayor and Group Leaders’ Joint Statement in Bedford BC Leaflet to Promote East West Rail Route via Bedford, Feb 2019

EWR Co's consultation on route options coincided with the 2019 Mayoral election, and this story published at the time on the Bedford Independent quotes Mayoral Candidates and MPs across different parties giving their support to a route via Bedford - 'Political Leaders agree - "East West rail must go through Midland Road Station"

At a Full Council meeting on 24th February 2021 a cross party vote, with support from Conservative, Green, Independent, Labour and Liberal Democrat Councillors, approved Councillor Michael Headley's motion which reiterated Bedford Borough Council's longstanding support for an East West Rail route serving Bedford. More details including the full text of the motion are available here.

Responses to the 2019 Consultation on the Route Options

During the consultation 6 rural parishes in the Borough wrote in responses. 2 didn't express a preference, 2 supported a southern route and 2 a northern route.

Amongst the consultations there are responses from national bodies who made points about all the routes, but included for instance:

Historic England raising concerns regarding:

Wimpole Hall in routes A, C and D

and

Moggerhanger Park on routes A, B and C

saying they have "potential to cause harm" to the park.

The Forestry Commission considered that routes B&E had the least impact

Natural England raised the issue of the impact on the Martson Vale Community Forrest of the southern routes.

And EWR Co themselves mention the concerns about impact on the RSPB Nature Reserve at Sandy with routes A, C and D

A summary of all the 2019 consultation responses are included in EWR Co's consultation feedback report, which can be downloaded here, while full
transcripts of feedback from 'prescribed consultees' (e.g. local authorities, parish councils and national
environmental, historical and ecological bodies) is included in appendix 10, here (from page 62).