East West Rail host public event to discuss controversial project

Councillor Stephen Ferguson spoke to the Hunts Post at the EWR event in Wyboston Lakes Resort on Wednesday.

Councillor Stephen Ferguson spoke to the Hunts Post at the EWR event in Wyboston Lakes Resort on Wednesday. - Credit: Hunts Post

East West Rail (EWR) welcomed residents from across Cambridgeshire to a public engagement session to allow them to better understand its polarising rail project.

More than 280 people turned up throughout the day for the drop-in event at Wyboston Lakes Resort on May 18. 

EWR is proposing a new rail link line between Cambridge and Oxford, which will run close to St Neots as part of a plan to improve east-west transport connectivity.

Head of communications for EWR, Hannah Staunton, said: “Good public transport is really important, making everyday activity like work, study, shopping or connecting with friends and family easier and quicker.

"Right now, someone with a car can drive between Bedford and Cambridge in a little under one-and-a-half hours – if you don’t drive, that could take two hours or more by existing transport. EWR will do that journey sustainably and reliably in under 40 minutes.

East West Rail hosted a face-to-face engagement session at Wyboston Lakes Resort.

East West Rail hosted a face-to-face engagement session at Wyboston Lakes Resort. - Credit: Hunts Post

"About three-quarters of local people are in favour of new public transport linking Oxford and Cambridge, but we recognise that it’s not that straightforward. People rightly have views on where and how it should be built.

"It was great to be talking to people face to face since Covid restrictions have lifted, and we are grateful to every one of the 280 people who came for their time and for talking to the team.”

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Sitting outside the formal consultation process, there was no new information shared as the review of the 2021 consultation was still in progress.

HDC councillor Lara Davenport-Ray at the EWR event in Wyboston Lakes Resort on Wednesday.

HDC councillor Lara Davenport-Ray at the EWR event in Wyboston Lakes Resort on Wednesday. - Credit: Hunts Post

At the event, ward councillor for St Neots East Lara Davenport-Ray said: “I wanted to see what sort of community involvement and information gathering was happening here with the EWR programme. I am glad they are here sharing their information, although it doesn’t seem like there is too much new."

“In general, I think we need to improve public transportation and that EWR connection is very important. I’m a bit little concerned about the exact plans around my ward, especially the Wintringham Park development and how it will interact with residents there, but I think we don’t have the full details yet, so I don’t have a firm opinion.” 

Also present at the event was the St Neots Priory Park and Little Paxton Cllr Stephen Ferguson, who said he was concerned for the residents he represents and the disruption the plans could cause to their lives, including plans for two viaducts.

East West Rail hosted a face-to-face engagement session at Wyboston Lakes Resort.

East West Rail hosted a face-to-face engagement session at Wyboston Lakes Resort. - Credit: Hunts Post

He said: "If there’s lots of utility and they can give us a good business case, and they can do it in an environmentally friendly way, I will support it, but the last set of proposals were pretty inadequate, so I think there are lots of questions they need to answer."

EWR has said they are still looking into the feedback from more than 9,000 responses and that the height of the viaducts is something they are assessing.

Currently, there is no timeline for the project with a preferred route alignment and a statutory consultation date to be decided before any construction can begin.

Members of the Bedford For a Re Consultation (BFARE) were present at the event, which is an action group contesting the route selection of EWR, acting as a mouthpiece for the public concerned with the process and plans.

The chair of BFARe, Mike Barlow, said: "We're here to support the public who have supported us. We've tried to make a splash and make people more aware of what is going on and what some of the challenges are, particularly about the environment."

Vice-chairman of Wyboston, Chawston and Colesden Parish Council and Rotary Club of St Neots member Gordon Johnston said: "It’s great to see EWR finally getting back to ‘engaging with the public’.

"Whilst it’s disappointing that they still aren’t saying which alignment they prefer, one hopes this indicates that they are actually listening and perhaps really looking at the better and more acceptable alternatives suggested during the last consultation (and since, as things evolve)."

EWR plans to hold other face-to-face events with other communities along the east-west route on different dates to come.