Campaign for disabled access at Biggleswade station goes all the way to Brussels
PUBLISHED: 14:17 08 December 2017 | UPDATED: 14:22 08 December 2017
Forget Brexit negotiations – the MEP who represents Biggleswade for the Labour Party took the issue of disabled access at Biggleswade railway station all the way to the European Parliament.
MEP Alex Mayer delivered a telling speech in Brussels, backing a campaign group called Bedfordshire Rail Access Network, which wants to see stations like Biggleswade made step-free.
It has been pressuring Network Rail and the Government to take action to improve access and facilities at the station, which is being used by an increasing number of London commuters and by just over a million passengers in the year 2016 to 2017.
In a debate about disability accessibility, Ms Mayer, who is a member of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, spoke about the campaign to get step free access at Leagrave, Flitwick, Biggleswade and Harlington stations.
She said in the chamber: “Campaigners in my constituency are dismayed that stations don’t have step-free access for disabled people.
“Ironically while all train carriages will have to be accessible by January 1, 2020, there are not any plans to make four of the five Bedfordshire stations, accessible. How exactly will a disabled Biggleswade passenger benefit from the accessible trains if they can’t get to the platform?
“The Department of Transport has stated that for every £1 spent on access improvements £2.90 is returned in economic benefits. It’s the right thing to do and makes economic sense too. So let’s do it.”
Luton is earmarked for disability accessibility improvements in 2019/20 but there no plans for step-free access at the other stations.
The campaign,which has been running in one form or another for 10 years, is supported by North East Beds MP Alistair Burt and Biggleswade Town Council and there are ongoing negotiations with Central Beds council and Network Rail – which owns the station.
It comes amid ongoing criticism about the limited facilities at Biggleswade station including limited parking and a ticket office which closes in the afternoons and usually has just one member of staff manning it.
Mr Burt said: “I have been working with representatives from councils and Govia Thameslink, towards finding a solution for improving access to Biggleswade station.
“We are now in a position where the next round of funding for the Government’s Access for All scheme opens, and I hope we will be able to submit a bid and secure the funding needed to enable step-free access.”
Creating such access is expected to cost some £4m.
Alluding to divisions in the campaign along political lines, Mr Burt added: “It is important to ensure that all supporters of this campaign work together to achieve the result we all want to see.”
Network Rail covers medium- and long-term strategic planning, and manages station projects of any significant size such as lifts and other accessibility improvements. These are prioritised and funded through the Government’s Access for All programme.
A petition has been set up calling for urgent improvements which currently has 5,288 signatures at: https://www.change.org/o/bedfordshire_rail_action_network.