Planned £2.3m rail and bus interchange for Biggleswade 'falls quite a long way short' of value for money says town council

Biggleswade Town Council discussed the plans at a meeting this week

Friday, 9th April 2021, 10:05 am
Updated Friday, 9th April 2021, 11:28 am

A planned £2.3m rail and bus interchange in Biggleswade "falls quite a long way short" of the value for money anticipated by the town council, a meeting heard.

The development is part of a housing infrastructure fund (HIF) investment in Biggleswade of nearly £70m.

Town councillors committed £2.4m to that funding bid, and were already unhappy with a lack of consultation from Central Bedfordshire Council over the project design.

An artist's impression of the interchange
An artist's impression of the interchange

"That's more than £120 for every resident of Biggleswade and at least double the town council's annual budget," deputy mayor Grant Fage told a town council meeting.

"Any transport interchange scheme needed to cover for bus layovers," he said.

"Only then could we remove standing buses from the market square and proceed with talks about the demolition of Century House.

"The residual benefits won't be felt, so the value for money falls short of £2.4m."

He proposed the town council "would strongly object to the project because it's an irresponsible use of public money", without an increase in its scope.

"We're sorry to be in this situation," he added. "But we're duty bound to ensure the prudent deployment of public funds and get the best outcome for Biggleswade.

"The town council regrets the lack of detail over electronic signage for bus and train times, while the single shelter appears far too small and will do little to encourage bus usage."

CBC has since confirmed the transport interchange next to Biggleswade railway station has been submitted for planning permission.

"The changes will make it easier for people to switch between different modes of transport and encourage people to use sustainable services rather than their own vehicles," CBC said.

"The plans are the result of a collaboration between us, Network Rail and Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), and are funded jointly by us and Homes England’s HIF."

Councillor Mark Knight referred to "a lack of proper and effective consultation" by CBC with the town council, saying: "The emerging Local Plan mentions the transport interchange implying high quality waiting areas will be provided.

"This proposal falls a long way short of high quality. There's no detail about whether the shelter is heated or how draughty it's going to be."

Town mayor Madeline Russell said: "There've been some meetings about this, but the CBC line is that Network Rail won't allow the use of any more land, so it can't expand what's on offer.

"Apparently Network Rail and GTR won't agree to the previous design we had presented to us by CBC at an earlier meeting, which we thought was very good.

"We're then stuck with the original plan which none of us liked."

CBC Biggleswade South and town councillor Mark Foster described it as a "dilemma" and "a compromise which is unsatisfactory", agreeing the tone of the council's response needs to be worded in "a less direct" way.

"We want something that works," he said. "I can't see the benefit of a glorified bus depot or bus station.

"The money side is an issue we need to be facing."

Councillor Fage replied: "We've been very constructive in working with CBC for several years and still want to be.

"It's the extent to which we feel let down about this."

Councillors unanimously agreed to indicate their concerns about the proposed planning application and to also contact CBC chief executive Marcel Coiffait about improving the scheme.