29th May – Update

You may have seen that Dartmoor National Park’s planners have released their recommendations regarding revisions to the Chuley Road Masterplan. The Appendices are linked below; Appendix 5 appraises the ‘options’ for railway activity on the site.

We will issue a more detailed response in due course, but I think it’s worth recording immediately our disappointment at the recommendations made.

As expected, the recommendations are based on a system of evaluation which massively favours short-term achievability, regardless of the cost to long-term potential. As proponents of the latter it is hugely disappointing to us, though perhaps not surprising, that our calls for alterations to the Masterplan have been largely rejected.

Planners have recommended that alterations should NOT be made to safeguard the railway formation, and thus plans for a ‘convenience store’ (supermarket) across the original mouth to the station remain. Likewise, the recommendation means that the siting of housing on the former alignment will not be reviewed. Together, these preclude any possibility that Ashburton station will ever see a train again, and the town will forever be denied the social and economic benefits that could bring.

Whilst we are pleased to note increased recognition of the heritage significance of the buildings (the only real response to our calls), it is hard to see what practical difference this recognition will make in light of the above. DNP planners are aware of our informed view that the potential for future reinstatement of the line remains fundamental to unlocking the funding and, just as crucially, the effort required to establish and maintain a Heritage Centre. Indeed, it is ironic that in assessing the option of a Heritage Centre in isolation, the DNP notes the need for “pragmatism” and “flexibility” to achieve viability. We have consistently been encouraged not to deal in these currencies but only in “certainties” – and we must reiterate our firm and certain conclusion that a Heritage Centre in isolation is not an option we, as a group, wish to pursue.

The FoAS committee will meet shortly to decide upon our next course of action. There are certainly some factual statements in the report we wish to challenge, and also some questions to be raised about procedure to date. Longer term I think we must, as a group and as individuals, now decide how much further time and energy we can commit to trying to influence a process whose focus is so clearly narrowed on short-term benefit, and whose conclusions are now so apparently foregone.

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