Poets EWR Walkabout, Friday 15 October 2021
Report by Colleen Atkins & Louise Jackson for Protect Poets
Present: Simon Blanchflower OBE, CEO East West Rail Company, Mohammad Yasin MP, Will Gallagher (EWR) and Ward Councillors Colleen Atkins and Louise Jackson
We met Simon Blanchflower, Will Gallagher and members of the EWR External Affairs team at Bedford Station at 9.30am. Although we’ve asked EWR a number of times to come and see for themselves the Poets site, the logistical arrangements were made by Mohammad Yasin’s team, and discussions about who should be present at the walkabout and subsequent meeting were made in meetings between Mohammad Yasin’s team and the EWR external affairs team. We weren’t involved in those discussions, other than to agree to participate.
The purpose of the ‘walkabout’ was to show Simon Blanchflower and Will Gallagher first-hand the properties that would be affected by the proposals announced on 30 March 2021 and how it would affect those residents and the Poets’ community.
The group met at Bedford Station and initially walked around the lower end of Ashburnham Road, looking at some of the issues there which Cllrs Ben Foley and Lucy Bywater, Castle Ward Councillors, raised directly with Simon Blanchflower.
The walkabout then moved to the Poets area where we as ward councillors guided EWR to see all properties directly affected and neighbouring properties affected by the proposals.
Our opposition to the six track proposal was already known and throughout the walkabout we stressed these were people’s homes and the impact, distress and pressure on their mental health the announcement last March had had on residents.
We’ve laid this report out in the order of the route after we had walked up from the station.
We raised the issue of the community garden, how and why it had been established many years ago and discussed the amount of work that had been undertaken by the community to re-establish the garden after it had been completely cleared by Network Rail during the rebuilding of Bromham Road Bridge.
Bromham Road Bridge
We talked about the disruption, both in terms of traffic disruption, noise, impact and wholly inconsiderate construction work during the rebuilding of the bridge and piling work, let alone the huge cost. We talked about how works had been undertaken at night during exam periods, and was often carried out without any notice.
We told Simon Blanchflower that we believed that ANY construction work necessary with whatever the Government ultimately decide to do must have adequate noise mitigation, proper notice and compensate those impacted, and that the mistakes made during Network Rail’s construction phase (and the inconsiderate behaviour that is still exhibited by some workers) cannot be a feature of anything that happens going forward.
Being aware of the previous bridge work, we mentioned too that schemes that narrow the pavements during construction making paths impassable to wheelchair users and those with pushchairs won’t be tolerated, and that the creation of unsafe, poorly lit passageways would be unacceptable.
We reiterated that a 4 track scheme would avoid the need for bridge work, disruption and noisy construction work – and, most importantly, the loss of any home.
Spenser Road Plane trees
Simon Blanchflower remarked on the five plane trees. We told him they were 120-150 years old, and pointed out the ones that would be removed under the current preferred scheme, and that plane trees are particularly good at absorbing pollution and this is very relevant to the railway and the busy Bromham Road.
Kalooki Club, 2 Spenser Road
We pointed out the Kalooki Club, and that this was earmarked for demolition (these points were made too by a resident in the meeting later and reinforced).
4 - 10 Spenser Road
We pointed out the four large houses earmarked for demolition, that some were flats and all were people’s homes.
We discussed the problems with language barriers that some residents faced, and that inadequate provision had been made to seek to overcome those barriers.
We raised that tenants renting those properties and elsewhere in Poets were also at a significant disadvantage in the scheme that had been put forward which has focused on engagement with owner occupiers, while avoiding the needs of vulnerable tenants. (Cllr Ben Foley & Lucy Bywater had made a similar point in relation to Ashburnham Road tenants).
Houses opposite affected
We pointed out the houses that would be now facing a track in Spenser and Sidney Road under the EWR preferred scheme, where they currently face other houses, and that consideration must be given to how those residents would be compensated should the scheme go ahead.
12 - 26 Spenser Road – garden loss
Pointed out the potential garden loss on Spenser Road from 12-26, and how those residents would find themselves losing outside space, having a railway track closer and it will be extremely hard to compensate adequately for such disruption. (Simon Blanchflower did talk a bit about acoustic fencing).
8 & 10 Milton Road demolition
We pointed out the houses earmarked for demolition on Milton Road. They are family homes and that huge amounts of money had recently been spent on improvements and extensions. We discussed the multi-generational aspect of this community.
We pointed out the blight on the area and that all affected residents were now in limbo and could not at this time make any improvements to their properties.
5 & 6 Milton Road
We pointed out how the gardens of these properties would be affected.
We discussed road layout, talking about the potential creation of cul de sacs, narrow alleyways during any potential construction and the community safety concerns that have been raised.
2 Sidney Road – care home for residents with learning disabilities
We pointed out the care home and that the long term residents would be extremely upset and distressed if they had to find a new home, and may not understand. Some residents had lived there for most of their adult lives.
4 – 10 Sidney Road - demolition
We pointed out the four houses where the residents thought they were settled, how the front gardens showed the care given to these homes, and the anguish that had been caused to them and everyone affected by the proposals.
12 - 18 Sidney Road – loss of part of garden
The same as in Spenser Road, the potential garden loss and how those residents would find themselves having a reduced garden and it will be hard to compensate adequately.
Milne Row and Chesterton Mews
We looked at the homes affected - some earmarked for demolition – others possible acquisition as houses have party walls. We explained that it was difficult to see how one home could be removed without impacting on the others given the terraced nature of the properties.
We pointed out that these were starter homes, highlighted recent sale prices, and explained how demolition of these homes would likely price residents out of the area entirely. (Daljit expanded very effectively on the ‘intangible’ benefits of living in the area at the meeting but we also had raised this).
We explained the multi-generational links in these areas and how these would be broken.
We stressed that all residents were finding the differing levels of access to the (inadequate) need to sell scheme for residents in the area difficult to understand.
Sidney Road – houses opposite (odd numbers)
We pointed out that all houses opposite would be affected, that they would face the track and the whole aspect of the road would change if mass demolitions. It was noted that residents’ concerns are well illustrated by the number of posters. We made the same points as in Spenser Road.
Alexander Sports Field
We showed them the sports field and said about concerns re the loss of green space and that part of the pitch could be lost under 6 track.
At this point, a freight train passed by, so it was an opportune moment to ask EWR about their plans about freight. The reply was they were still looking at what EWR’s role should and shouldn’t be in the national freight strategy.
We raised electrification and how the track must be electrified from day one. Simon Blanchflower mentioned bi-mode trains, but said that they continued to press government for full electrification.
We said we were sceptical about ‘new technologies’ that aren’t yet proven and that any new track must surely be electrified from the outset – but that the disruption could be avoided with a 4 track scheme. Both Simon Blanchflower and Will Gallagher said repeatedly that they were continuing to look at options for this.
We raised the issue of the viaduct, and we asked whether alternatives were still under consideration. The response was yes, but the emphasis was on difficulties.
We raised that we are hearing there will potentially be a gap of several months between the announcement of the final scheme to go out to statutory consultation and the consultation beginning – purdah may be the oft cited reason for that.
We told Simon that this was not acceptable and that residents need a formal route to voice any concerns that they will have about final proposals immediately. Months of limbo between announcement and consultation would be distressing and unhelpful and would further impact on the mental health of residents.
We again reiterated that communication had been poor and that more face to face engagement from EWR with the community must happen, accounting for language barriers and digital exclusion.
EWR’s Final words
Simon Blanchflower and Will Gallagher said they had listened to our representations throughout the event, and our explanations of how various parts of Poets would be impacted by the proposals as they stand.
They repeated how they had heard us loud and clear at the walkabout and at various online meetings, that we were strongly opposed to six-tracks and the demolition of any home, and that they had read our submissions to the consultation.
Note: As those of you who were present at the meeting afterwards would have seen, there weren’t any particular solutions offered up at this point, that they aren’t ready to release the next stage of their plans yet, and they repeatedly told us that they’re still working with their engineers to find possible solutions to all of the issues that we have raised.