East West Rail update by the Mayor of Bedford, Dave Hodgson
In a few months we will find out the Government’s chosen route for East West Rail. One thing that is known is that it will go through Bedford, as the Government and
the East West Rail Company previously announced this after their 2019 consultation.
I am fighting for the impact on local residents to be minimised: I and the Council are vigorously campaigning for EWR to stick to their original four-track plan to avoid any demolitions in the Poets area of Bedford and we have also called for impacts across the whole line to be minimised.
And it is essential that electric trains must operate from day one. We will make further representations once we know the route in the next consultation, which will take place next year.
ADDITIONAL LOCAL JOBS
With these caveats aside, a new railway would give Bedford Borough a multi-million pound economic boost, create hundreds of additional local jobs, and link Bedford with other thriving economies. Being well-connected is at the heart of our future success, and rail transport is at the heart of tackling climate change.
Not only will a route via Bedford Station deliver a bigger economic benefit than a route bypassing Bedford to the south, but by stopping in Bedford itself, this important new infrastructure and the many work and leisure opportunities it brings will be more accessible for all residents across the Borough with unnecessary journeys minimised.
A route serving Bedford station will link us directly with other key economic centres, connect mainline rail routes including the Midland Mainline and enhance Bedford Station’s status as a hub – something the Government have failed to invest in since long-promised improvements were ‘postponed’ in 2010.
These improvements will also bring much-needed investment to the area around Bedford station itself. It would enable housing and commercial development in a brownfield urban area and reduce pressure for development on greenfield sites in the countryside.
Some residents are understandably concerned about the impact and we must be clear and not offer false hope – other routes have been rejected by the Government as the process has progressed over many, many years.
Problems with the old closed route include going through Priory Country Park, and Danish Camp.
And 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.
East West Rail will lead to a comprehensive redevelopment of Bedford Midland Station paid for by the government which also supports the regeneration of the Station area – building homes on brownfield sites.
This will run parallel to our huge success in securing Towns Fund money, which includes over £5 million for Bedford Station Quarter project and £6 million for improvements to the Midland Road area as a gateway into Bedford. This is a once in a generation opportunity.
The Station Quarter regeneration will deliver new public spaces and improve the approach to the Station and promote and prioritise sustainable travel modes such as cycling and walking through the upgrade of cycle routes and walking routes.
The Midland Road regeneration will transform the key gateway from the railway station into the town centre.
This will be public realm improvements along the route to create a vibrant corridor and improve walking routes to and from Bedford Town Centre.
It will also provide investment in shop front improvements to make the area more attractive and accessible to residents, businesses and visitors.
Overall, the investment in rail connections to Bedford and the related transformation of the station area will be a huge boost for local residents, the local economy and jobs and the future of our Borough.