Anger as mayor fails to invite Bedford ward councillors to East West Rail meetings

Residents sent a letter promising local councillors would be in attendance – but ward councillors weren’t invited
Councillor Zara Layne. Screenshot from Full Council meeting on Wednesday, July 12 2023Councillor Zara Layne. Screenshot from Full Council meeting on Wednesday, July 12 2023
Councillor Zara Layne. Screenshot from Full Council meeting on Wednesday, July 12 2023

Bedford’s mayor has been asked if he knows a Labour councillor’s email address after ward councillors were not invited to a meeting about East West Rail.

The question was posed by councillor Zara Layne (Labour, Harpur) during this week’s (July 12) Full Council Meeting.

“It’s [email protected]”, the councillor added, helpfully.

“And I only ask this because I’ve been made aware that letters have been delivered in Harpur Ward, on borough headed paper, inviting residents to a meeting in our ward about East West Rail.

“This letter promises that local councillors will be in attendance, but as neither councillor [Colleen] Atkins or myself were consulted, much less invited, I can only imagine that there’s been a communications foul up somewhere along the line, rather than a deliberative attempt to prevent representatives from attending.

“I find it incredible that such an action has been taken, and I would ask the mayor to explain why he did not feel it was necessary to invite councillors to an event that is badged as a council run one.

“Further, I would ask what information you have to share with residents that you don’t feel able to share with elected colleagues,” she asked.

Bedford mayor Tom Wootton (Conservative) replied: “For a long time residents of Poets have been asking for meetings. They have been asking me on regular occasions when we’re going to find stuff out.”

He added that he was urged by the Labour Party in May, but he couldn’t remember who contacted him, to hold meetings with Poets residents.

“I just have to apologise for the efficiency of the borough council officers who wrote out so quickly that my invite to you was missed out,” he said. “If you want to come you can come along, I’ll be grateful to have you sit in there.”

Councillor Layne said: “So this is the new administration’s first test on East West Rail and it’s already off to somewhat a rocky start with a questionable lack of transparency. It was councillor Atkins and I who reached out to you in June to discuss how we could work together. And we were told at the time that there was a plan in place and that you would be in touch – that never happened.

“To learn about this event only after we were contacted by local residents raises many, many, questions about transparency. I can hope that communication improves, because ultimately we are all here to serve the residents of Bedford to the best of our ability.”

Councillor Ben Foley (Green, Greyfriars) said: “You said earlier that you’d arranged for the councillor for the town centre to be invited to this particular event.

“We’ve already heard that councillors Layne and Atkins who represent part of the town centre were not invited. I’ve checked with councillors, Bywater and Edmonds who also represent part of the town centre, the High Street, they were not invited. Myself representing Midland Road and the station area I also wasn’t [invited], so when you say the councillor for the town centre was invited, I sort of wonder who on Earth do you mean.”

Mayor Wootton replied: “I was talking to councillor Spice, who is the cabinet member and portfolio holder for the town centre.

“We didn’t know whether other councillors might want to come along, they have boxed themselves into a corner about this issue, so I didn’t want to presume anything,” he said.