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OPINION: Spending £8bn on East West Rail is ‘simply bananas’

More housing is needed. But it shouldn’t come at the cost of devastating communities

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Plans to spend over £8bn on the East West Rail scheme are simply bananas! And that’s because the project isn’t about improving public transport at all — it’s all about opening up huge tracts of land for massive housing developments. 

East West Rail (EWR) will cut a 500-metre-wide strip through our farms and green spaces, yet it fails to deliver meaningful benefits to our communities. An expensive project that benefits developers more than it does the 75,000 people of St Neots and Mid Cambridgeshire.

The cost is enormous. The environmental damage huge. The upheaval for local residents unnecessary.

Of course, we need massive improvements in public transport here. We need better links between St Neots, Cambourne, and Cambridge. As Cambridge grows, we’ll need much more than buses.

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We need to start looking to the future with Very Light Rail (VLR) or tram links fit for the fastest-growing region in the U.K. Just imagine what an innovative VLR system we could have for that £8bn of investment!

But the EWR project doesn’t address any of those problems.

This constituency gets just one station, between Cambourne and Knapwell. The next nearest is in Bedfordshire, several miles South of St Neots. So, most of us will have to drive or take a bus or taxi to access these stations.

And when we get there, the trains don’t take us where we need to be.

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No, East West Rail isn’t about improving our public transport at all — and that’s why the promise of “door-to-door connectivity” doesn’t apply to us. It’s only for future residents of the new developments, like ‘Tempsford New Town’, ‘Little Barford Garden Village‘ or ‘Cambourne North’, that will spring up around the stations.

Just how much development are we talking about? Well, St Neots is the biggest town in Cambridgeshire, with a population of 37,000. Estimates are that EWR will unlock land for housing a whopping 213,300 people — nearly a quarter of a million!

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‘Tempsford New Town’ will see a small village of 400 people engulfed by a massive development, taking the population to over 40,000. ‘Cambourne North’ would double the size of Cambourne.

And you can bet it won’t end there.

More housing is needed. But it shouldn’t come at the cost of devastating communities like Tempsford, Croxton, Eltisley or Highfields Caldecote. Nor should it mean destroying grade-one agricultural land or erecting 39-foot viaducts near St Neots!

We’d be far better investing this money in a Cambridgeshire light rail network. One that genuinely serves current residents and supports sensible, organic housing growth.

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A system that gets us where we need to go — both to Cambridge and across it. One that would avoid the destructive, large-scale development that EWR will bring.

Vote for me on July 4th, and I will fight to see East West Rail aborted — and to put more ambitious plans for public transport in place.

Cllr Stephen Ferguson is the independent parliamentary candidate for St Neots and Mid Cambridgeshire

 

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