The need to improve our digital and transport infrastructure has only been reinforced over the last thirteen months. With greater levels of ‘at-home working’ and more people looking for a better quality of life in the South West the stresses and strains on digital networks and transport systems are being pushed to the max.
Thankfully digital improvement plans are already substantially underway and by 2024 thousands more homes and businesses will be linked up with faster internet connectivity. The same cannot yet be said of our transport links, specifically our railways.
Before the Beeching cuts of 1963, South Devon was well catered for with every town benefitting from a railway station. Sadly, with the advent of the car, many of these stations were done away within a remarkable cost-cutting exercise that made little sense either then or now.
Fortunately, we now have an opportunity to restore some of these stations under the Government’s new Restoring your Railway Fund. Exactly as the scheme suggests the purpose of this new initiative is to explore the viability of reopening old stations and rail lines that have long since been out of service. For South Devon, this should be very welcome news indeed.
Over the last month, my team and I have been running two surveys to explore the viability of reopening Brent Station and Churston and Goodrington Stations. Both surveys with hundreds of responses have come back with an overwhelmingly positive response (above 90% in both instances). These responses will be factored into the submissions put forward to the Department of Transport on the 5th March.
Notwithstanding the findings of these consultations, we must also consider other local factors.
The existence of the Dartmouth Steam Railway is neither a hindrance nor a block to progression. As a major draw for train enthusiasts and tourists alike, it is part of the very fabric of our community. Its future is in no doubt and these plans are not designed to impinge on its existence. In fact, the steam railway is sacrosanct and any development and improvement to our rail links should be done alongside the steam railway as opposed to in place of it. The Isle of White serves as a useful example of how this can be achieved.
Whatever the response to our submissions we know that South Devon is likely to see more housing developments over the coming years, due to Torbay Authority’s Liberal Coalition’s mishandling of the three-year land supply. New developments will only add pressure to our existing infrastructure networks. These feasibility studies will arm us with the knowledge of understanding what could work now and in the future.
With the UK already storming ahead of our G7 colleagues when it comes to the environmental policy, we must maintain this momentum. Improving our national infrastructure may have a short-term cost but it will pay environmental dividends long into the future. More commuters using trains and cycle paths will ensure reduced congestion, better air quality and improved standards of living.
While it is deeply disappointing that reopening Churston and Goodrington Station does not have the support of Torbay’s Liberal Coalition I am buoyed at the incredible response from residents. By improving our infrastructure, we have an opportunity to attract more investment, enhance our environmental credentials, reduce congestion and continue to preserve the beauty of South Devon, we must make use of this fantastic opportunity.