Concerns potential Tempsford station for East West Rail link could result in 12,500 homes
MP calls for CEO to visit the area and understand the full impact
Politicians are ringing alarm bells about how plans for the new East West Rail link will affect communities in Chronicle country, including fury at the CBC's decision to support a line near Tempsford.
In 2018, the Department for Transport created the East West Railway Company to look at plans being developed for a new railway between Oxford and Cambridge, with part of the route due to run through the Sandy/St Neots area.
However, Conservative MP for North East Bedfordshire Richard Fuller is urging the CEO of EWC, Simon Blanchflower, to visit the area to understand its impact, while Independent Central Bedfordshire Councillor, Adam Zerny, believes that CBC wishes the line to run through Tempsford so it can build 12,500 homes.
Mr Fuller, who has written to the Mr Blanchflower, inviting him to visit key points along the potential route in his constituency, said: "Decisions like this are not about looking at lines on a map in your office; decision makers need to see the impact on the environment and communities first-hand.
"I was born in Bedford and have been the MP for both the town of Bedford and for North East Bedfordshire, and even so I have still found it extremely useful to visit the affected parishes in my constituency to help visualise the impact of the proposed rail line. I think as CEO of East West Rail, Simon Blanchflower would also find it useful and I have asked him to find a date so I can join him on his visit.”
Mr Fuller has also asked for a meeting with EWR analysts to go through an in-depth review of the calculations that informed the start of the 2019 consultation and a line-by-line explanation of the cost-benefit changes that led to a switch in the order of the routes in the final 2019 report.
He added: "There have been mounting concerns from residents about the aspects of the first consultation and decision processes and full transparency on the cost-benefit analysis will go a long way in resolving some of these issues.”
The new rail link will see Bedford station revamped, and from Bedford there will be a brand new track built to take commuters on to two new stations, one near Sandy and St Neots, and the other at Cambourne. From Cambourne the line will run to Cambridge.
Exactly where the track will run and where the new stations will be in the Sandy/St Neots area is yet to be decided. Four station suggestions were put forward in a recent consultation by EWC (March 31 - June 9), with two St Neots station options, and two Tempsford station options. One of these will be selected.
However, Cllr Zerny claims that CBC believes it can "get more cash from of the government if the line results in large scale housing (and associated havoc) for Tempsford" whereas if the route goes nearer to St Neots "the council's bean counters get nothing".
Writing in its response, Central Beds Council stated: "In terms of the proposals for a new station in the Tempsford/St. Neots area, the council strongly supports the options for a new station south of the new A428 connection – the two Tempsford options."
It continued: "The consultation documents recognise the potential of the Tempsford area in terms of the location of the station, inviting further evidence to be provided in relation to this.
"Whilst subject to further detailed analysis, preliminary site assessments provided to CBC indicate that at least 12,500 homes could be brought forward around the Tempsford area, with the potential for wider opportunities over the longer term. In addition, it is considered development of this scale could enable around 60 ha of commercial development, supporting circa 5,500 to 7,000 jobs. Additional employment would also be associated with the social and community infrastructure that would be delivered alongside the development (e.g. schools and health centres) plus retail and food and hospitality employment that would service future residential communities.
"The growth and economic potential that could be realised at Tempsford is therefore considerable. It is not anticipated that this scale of growth could be delivered alongside a new station to the north of the A428."
However, Cllr Zerny told the Chronicle: "The people that matter the most in this are the residents of Tempsford. They are the ones that will be most affected. For Central Beds Council to back a route which runs right past the village and to say they want it because they can build lots of housing, is completely underhand. To do so without even consulting the villagers demonstrates a real breakdown of trust."
Posting on social media, he claimed: "On page 37 [of its response] CBC comments how 'it is crucial that the views of residents are fully considered when reviewing these options'.
Once they'd finished laughing, Tempsford residents might question why if the council was so keen on the views of local residents it didn't bother asking of them before it compiled this report."
Mr Fuller told the Chronicle: “The consultation by East West Rail has been beset by controversy and many of my constituents feel that their voices have not been heard. With the surprising decision of Route E across Bedfordshire, residents in Tempsford and Sandy in my constituency are rightly concerned now about where the new line will cross the Great Northern line. Sandy Town Council has pressed me to secure confirmation that there will be no threat to services from the town station and I have done that. In turn this would recommend a more northerly crossover point, potentially as far as St Neots rather than a more southerly one at Tempsford."
"I have invited the CEO of East West Rail to 'walk the routes' with me across my constituency and when I have a date I will be reaching out to parish and local authority councillors in the affected areas to join us on the day."
An EWR spokeswoman said: "People will obviously have a range of views on the best way to make living in this area more affordable, and where housing development should take place. This is ultimately a decision for Government and local authorities – it’s not down to East West Rail. One thing that we do hear a lot is that if there is going to be development, it’s critical to have the infrastructure in place to support it first – and that’s where EWR comes in. We want to make sure we are providing good reliable public transport links that will serve the communities in this area – both now and in the future.
"Mr Blanchflower and his team have spent a lot of time on site during the development of proposals at locations across the East West Rail route, including Bedford, although this has necessarily been more limited since Covid restrictions came into force. Our team has proactively engaged with Mr Fuller and his constituents over the past few months. We’re very keen to continue with this engagement, including meeting with Mr Fuller in the local area, and we’re in touch with his office to make those arrangements."
On when a decision on one of the four station options (Tempsford A; Tempsford B; St Neots A ; St Neots B) will be made, the spokeswoman added: "We’re now carefully considering all the feedback from our recent 10-week consultation as we continue to develop plans for the railway and will then make our recommendations to the Government. A statutory consultation is expected next year when communities will be asked to give their comments on detailed proposals."
For the Bedford to Cambridge section, EWC asked for initial public feedback on five initial route options in early 2019. As a result, a preferred route option was identified - a line from Bedford to Cambridge via Sandy/St Neots and Cambourne. This was announced in early 2020.
The consultation with the station options for Tempsford and St Neots was then launched on March 31.
A CBC spokeswoman said: “East West Rail (EWR) is a once in a generation investment that will bring huge benefits to our communities. High speed train connections to Oxford and Cambridge will open up opportunities for jobs as well as businesses growth in our area.
"We support the option for a new station at Tempsford which will serve both our existing and any new future communities for two reasons. Firstly, locating the new station south of the A428, rather than at St. Neots, would provide our residents with the easiest access to the new train services. We see this as an opportunity to provide residents with a new sustainable travel choice in their local area.
"Secondly, we need to think ahead to the future. It is well-known that there are housing pressures in this area and further homes will need to be planned for in Central Bedfordshire in the future. Tempsford was an area explored for large-scale housing growth within the emerging Local Plan and we have always been clear that these proposals were only not taken forward because of infrastructure constraints, which the EWR proposals and the new A428 connection would help to resolve. We know from listening to local residents how important it is to ensure new developments have the appropriate infrastructure and amenities in place to support them and to ensure they are sustainable. We believe that locating a new train station at Tempsford would achieve this objective.
"It is not the council’s role to approve any routes and we have not done so. We have submitted a consultation response, and East West Rail will select the final route. For more information, our full response to the consultation is available to read on our website.”