11 October 2017

Plans to reduce rail services in Bedford, Luton and Wellingborough are 'utterly at odds' with the region being a focus for long term growth, according to England's Economic Heartland's Strategic Transport Forum.

Councillor Heather Smith, the forum's chairman, said she was 'deeply concerned' by the proposals outlined in the East Midlands Rail Franchise consultation, which sets out the Department for Transport's aims ahead of it selecting an operator to run the service from 2018/19.

She said: "The plans are utterly at odds with the area being a focus for planned growth on an unprecedented scale. This growth has been identified by the National Infrastructure Commission as being critical for the UK economy, but making it happen requires investment in improving connectivity throughout the region – and certainly not the downgrading of services and lengthier journey times.

"We are extremely concerned that the franchise document fails to adequately take account of the context provided by the National Infrastructure Commission, or the Government's commitment to ensure improved levels of connectivity as a means of enabling the Heartland's economic potential to be realised.

"We have therefore responded robustly to the consultation, calling on the Department for Transport to revisit its proposals as a matter of urgency and work closely with us so that they better reflect both the pressures and ambition that exist across the Heartland.

"We are also deeply concerned about the consultation process. The consultation document lacks detail and the questions posed in it are highly selective.  As a consequence it is difficult to fully understand the nature of the proposals. That's why in our view a second round of consultation must be undertaken which includes greater detail."

The Strategic Transport Forum's response said the proposals will have an 'unacceptable impact on passengers using services in the Heartland' and will 'significantly impact' on journeys from towns within the region to destinations north of Wellingborough by introducing a requirement to change at Kettering.

This is 'inconsistent with the role of Bedford as a hub for interchange both with Thameslink services and in future, services on East West Rail. Passengers from either service intending to travel northwards on the Midland Main Line would be required to change twice – at Bedford and Kettering – in quick succession'.

The Transport Forum also requested a minimum of four trains per hour calling at Luton Airport Parkway providing services to both London, as well as Bedford and key stations to the north.

The National Infrastructure Commission's interim report in November 2016 said the value of the Heartland economy (currently £92.5bn per annum) could increase by between £85bn and £163bn over the next 30 years.

It identified improved connectivity as a critical issue that needs to be addressed in order to realise that opportunity. The Government endorsed the Commission's view in the 2016 Autumn Statement.