‘Access for All’ off the Rails

I was interested to read Alistair Burt’s comments in the Biggleswade Comet (5th October) about his desire to improve accessibility at Biggleswade train station. Mr Burt mentions that his government operates an Access for All fund to enable equal access for passengers. What he neglected to mention was that his government has consistently cut funding to the scheme and many schemes across the country have been delayed until the next Control Period which starts in 2019.

Looking through Hansard I can find no record of Mr Burt having raised this issue in the House of Commons. I would have hoped that a local MP and former Minister for the Disabled would have put the case for equal access at one of the busiest rail stations in his constituency.

Figures from the Office of Road and Rail show that in 2015/6 Biggleswade station had 992,000 passengers, a figure which is likely to have increased with the recent developments in the town. This ranks Biggleswade 568th out of the 2,553 rail stations in the UK and yet we still have no prospect of step-free access at the station.

Further, a study into the stations already provided with step-free access by the drastically reduced Access for All scheme indicates that many stations with far fewer passenger numbers than Biggleswade have benefited from the scheme. For example, Henley-in-Arden station with only 132,000 passengers in the same period has had two lifts installed and Wendover station with 507,000 passengers a new footbridge and two lifts installed. Is anyone fighting for Biggleswade in the corridors of power?

Actions speak louder than words. This government, of which our MP is a prominent member, and Central Bedfordshire Council has had seven years to sort this issue out. This government is failing disabled people, a view backed up by the United Nations as well as Disability Campaign groups UK wide who have argued in vain against the Tory cuts.

Moving on to financial matters the Department of Transport’s figures show that for each £1 spent on improvements £2.90 is returned in economic benefits. Lifts at Biggleswade will not only provide step-free access for disabled people, but also for elderly people and parents with prams who I regularly see struggling up the stairs at the station.

I make no apology for wanting a fairer, more equal society where the needs of the most disadvantaged are looked after as well as those of the most privileged. Having met Mr Burt on several occasions during the general election campaign I know him to be a decent and compassionate man, yet he consistently fails to stand up to his own government when his constituents need him to. Obviously a change is needed in North East Bedfordshire if we are to see step-free access for the rail users of Biggleswade.


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