Disability campaigners raise concerns about bus station plans for Biggleswade transport interchange

Bedfordshire Rail Access Network say they 'fully support the principles behind the scheme' but that improvements need to be made

Thursday, 15th April 2021, 1:14 pm

A disability campaign group is urging Central Bedfordshire Council to make improvements to plans for the new Biggleswade transport interchange.

Following a recent meeting with CBC, Bedfordshire Rail Access Network (BRAN) has published an open letter stating that it has "a number of concerns" about the new bus station that need to be addressed before it can offer it's "full support" to the scheme.

The organisation thanked the council for "being proactive and getting in touch with them", but alleged that "the current proposals do not provide the necessary infrastructure, both for people with visual impairments and the wider community".

A designer's drawing of the transport interchange. Photo: CBC.
A designer's drawing of the transport interchange. Photo: CBC.

In its letter, BRAN raised several key points, claiming: "We cannot support what are termed ‘informal crossings’ which are present in the current plans as the principles on which they are based do not take into account the ‘lived experience’ of visually impaired people.

"We discussed the guiding principles of shared space and informal crossings and we disagree that this has been a success in other areas. Again, while research in this area may provide statistics around the absence of injuries, this must not be seen in purely safety terms.

"To use the crossing safely, a visually impaired person has to endure long waiting periods before crossing the road, and then cannot be sure that the crossing is actually clear of cars. The safety statistics might look fine, but the actual, daily experience of visually impaired people using the crossings is in itself poor."

The campaign group claims it was "advised that the bus interchange will not be staffed", arguing that the council should revise this decision to "provide numerous benefits to customers and encourage greater use".

The group are also urging the council to provide more outdoor cover for commuters.

They claimed: "...the bus interchange does have the look of a ‘glorified bus stop’. The plans indicate a solitary shelter, which looks like scant protection for bus users against wind and rain.We ask that a cantilever design is considered for additional shelters on the Eastern boundary of the bus interchange and in the area of the real time information hub."

Finally, the letter posed questions about the height difference between the general level of the proposed bus station and that of the station forecourt, and how wheelchair users are to access various platforms, in particular the island platform.

It is signed by Julian Vaughan, Fiona Carey, Paul Day, and Natalie Doig of Bedfordshire Rail Access Network.

In response to the letter, a Central Bedfordshire Council spokesman, said: “Ease of access and safety are always major priorities when considering new transport infrastructure, as part of this design process we have seriously considered the installation of both Zebra and Puffin crossings, but technical specifications and the space available ruled them out.

"We are confident that the design makes best use of the space available; working alongside Network Rail we have ensured that the proposals conform to all accessibility standards.

"We of course welcome people raising questions on this and would encourage people to view and comment on the planning application.”

There was also some controversy last week, as it was claimed that the initial council press release about the interchange was misleading.

Some readers argued that it was unclear whether the 'step-free access' lifts and ramps were included in the £2.3m that CBC is investing into the rail and bus interchange.

A Network Rail spokesman said: “The accessibility project to deliver step-free access at Bigglewade by installing new lifts and ramps will be funded through the Government’s national Access for All programme.”

Mr Vaughan, of BRAN, claimed: "I think the CBC press release was misleading so as not to highlight how much the bus interchange cost on its own and then potentially the question of whether people were getting value for money."

A CBC spokesman said: "Our proposal is to invest £2.3m in the bus/rail interchange project adjacent to Biggleswade station; other improvements and costs are being planned by Network Rail and Govia Thameslink Railways.”

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£2.3million plans submitted for rail and bus interchange in Biggleswade