Yesterday the Bedfordshire Rail Access Network team met with Network Rail, GTR, Richard Fuller MP, CBC and Town Councillors to discuss the latest progress re the Biggleswade Transport Hub. Today we carried out a site visit at the station with the the Officers from Central Bedfordshire Council.
Although we have formally objected to the current design, we fully support the principle of an integrated and accessible transport hub, with seamless connections between different transport modes, to enable everyone to be able to travel independently and to reduce our reliance on the car.
The Good News
- The lifts are still on course to be operational at the train station by September 2022. This step-free access will comprise of a ramp leading towards 16 person capacity lifts to both the Northbound and Southbound platforms. We started our campaign on this in 2017 and look forward to its completion. We will continue to meet with Network Rail and others every three months until the lifts are fully operational.
- A new secure storage area for cycles is in the planning stage and will be located to the left of the station building as you look at it from Station Road. This area will be fenced off and the intention is for it to be accessible via an App. No timescales on this facility as yet. In the meantime additional cycle parking provision is being installed over the next few days, again just to the left of the Amazon pick up point.
- A new additional station building will be built on the site of the current cycle storage area, which will contain an accessible toilet as well as a ‘changing places’ facility. This is likely to be accessed by a ‘Radar’ key so can only be used by people with disabilities, unless staff are available. At the moment, although the building will be able to accommodate a ‘changing places’ facility, there is not the funding for it at this time. The current timescale for the accessible toilet being ready is between September 2021 and Spring 2022 – this has slipped a little, although Govia Thameslink Railway stressed that they are hoping it will be September.
- We had previously raised concerns about the lack of adequate shelter at the bus stations, with the original plans only having a solitary shelter. We are pleased to say that, after speaking to both the design team and the case officer, there has been some movement on this and there are likely to be additional shelters on the Eastern edge of the bus station.
The not so good news
- There was considerable discussion about the lack of a toilet available for use by all passengers, both bus and rail. I said I was very disappointed that we are spending a considerable sum of money on the whole project and yet we are quibbling about a single additional toilet facility, which would make such a difference both to the passengers and bus drivers who will use the hub. We will press firmly for money to be made available for this facility.
- We also expressed disappointment, shared by the Town Council representatives, that there were no plans to staff the interchange. This would greatly improve the experience of passengers, as well as allay any security concerns. We asked that both the bus and rail companies look into this. It is vital that the transport hub is as welcoming and user-friendly as possible, both to assist passengers who may need any help and encourage a shift away from the car, vital to playing our part in combatting climate change. It was striking that the concept of a staffed transport hub seemed somewhat alien to some of those attending the meeting, and it is clear we will need to apply further pressure in this area.
- The issue of the lack of space for the bus element of the interchange was raised again, as it severely limits the scope of what can be included. I have some sympathy with the Central Bedfordshire Council planners, as they have been hemmed in by the Network Rail land which lies to the East of the bus interchange site, an area Network Rail seem very unwilling to give up even a narrow strip. I understand this area is used by Network Rail during engineering works to store materials and equipment, but I don’t believe that giving up a two metre strip of this land will hinder this facility. I’ve yet to receive an answer why this piece of land is being defended so strongly, but we will persist in asking the question, although with time running out it may be too late to improve the interchange in the short term.
Site Visit today
Our team spent an hour at the transport hub site today discussing a number of issues with Central Bedfordshire Council officials – the Case Officer for the planning application, as well as a Highways Officer.
- Firstly, we raised the significant problems that are caused by ‘informal crossings’ (of which there are three in the current plans) particularly for people who are visually impaired. Our team has considerable knowledge and experience of campaigning on this issue. We set out how their ‘lived experience’ of the drawbacks to this style of crossing which purely uses coloured material to denote the crossing, and has no legal standing in terms of road traffic being required to stop at it. We asked that there is a rethink to the type of crossings used as well as their location – particularly the crossing which is located at the end of Palace St which could be obstructed by vehicles turning right into Saffron Way.
- We asked whether there has been an ‘Equality Impact Assessment’ for the scheme, which is a legal requirement. There was no evidence that one has been completed to date.
- We also asked if the bus companies who will use the interchange had been consulted and whether bus users had been asked their views on the scheme. Again it was not clear if this had taken place as we do not have any evidence to suggest it had.
- There was a discussion about the accessibility of the island platform within the bus interchange for wheelchair users and visually impaired people as space was very limited.
- Again, we stressed the importance of making the bus interchange a welcoming place, which is perceived to be safe to use. If people don’t feel safe, or they know if it is raining they will get soaking wet, people will either stick with their cars, or not use the station at all.
I spoke to Richard Fuller MP this morning about the hub and also bumped into the Mayor of Biggleswade. just prior to our site visit. I will continue to liaise with them both to press for improvements to the current scheme, as they are also very keen to get the best scheme for Biggleswade. We will also be keeping in touch with Central Bedfordshire Council regarding potential amendments to the current plans. We will have the opportunity to speak at the planning meeting (three minutes total!) although we want the remaining issues sorted by then, as when it gets to planning meeting stage everything is pretty much done and dusted.
If you are a current bus user, or would be a potential user of the bus interchange, we would welcome your views. Do get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can take a look at the current plans in full here: Central Bedfordshire Council Planning Pages
Further updates to come as we get them.
Chair, Bedfordshire Rail Access Network
11th May 2021