All posts by David Sheppard

Update – 5th June

LATEST: At the recommendation of DNP Officers, we understand that the decision on the Chuley Road Masterplan has been deferred until 3 July. It was reported at today’s meeting that the Chairman, Peter Harper, had received at least 40 pieces of correspondence regarding the issue since the publication of the final draft.

More News soon.

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.

Click here for DNPA Reports

12th May – Update

We’ve heard today that the steering group for the Chuley Road Masterplan will meet next week. The Dartmoor National Park (DNP) planners will present them with their appraisal of our case, and a decision should be reached on the five ‘options’ relating to a railway presence on the site.

In their latest newsletter, DNP identified these options as:

1) The conservation of railway heritage buildings within the site, with public access to those buildings where possible;

2) The conservation of Ashburton Station building, and use as a railway heritage centre;

3) The safeguarding of a route for the future provision of a new railway line between Buckfastleigh and Ashburton (in combination with option 2);

4) The provision of a new railway line between Buckfastleigh and Ashburton, with a station which lies short of Chuley Road (in combination with options 2 and 3);

5) The provision of a new railway line between Buckfastleigh and Ashburton Station (in combination with options 2 and 3).

In our meeting with DNP Members at Parke on April 17, we reiterated our position on these options, as informed by the work undertaken to prepare our written submission. Crucially, we explained our view that the viability and sustainability of Option 2 is dependent upon Option 3; that is, we believe that safeguarding the route for potential reconnection of the (original) station is crucial to the viability of a heritage centre on the site, both in financial terms and the motivation of individuals and third-party organisations. Option 3 is therefore fundamental to the group’s support of any heritage use of the site.

Option 4 is, of course, at odds with our focus on the original station, and we consider this to be both undesirable and unsustainable because neither the original station nor the centre of the town would be served.

We can feel confident as a group that we have done everything within our power to make our voices heard and to influence the planning process, as far as that is possible in this case. Indeed, we have constantly tested the boundaries of our capability as a community group – unpracticed in challenging the Planning machine – to ensure that our case is judged on its long-term potential rather than short-term ease of delivery. We have won the support of so many passionate individuals, locally and internationally, and the backing of major organisations. We have achieved sustained local and national press coverage, and prompted healthy discussion throughout the community about what they really want. We have fought for an audience at the highest level in the authorities, and have won many allies, some rather unlikely.

We should find out next week whether all this has made a difference.

Public Meeting Update

Thanks to everybody who turned out for the Public Meeting on Saturday. For those who couldn’t be there, here’s a short summary;

St Lawrence Chapel was full and standing, with 96 visiting heads counted. The Friends gave a detailed presentation and slideshow which, we reiterated, was intended to be a broad introduction to our case, to who we are, and why our proposals should be considered seriously.

The presentation began by explaining the importance of Ashburton Station in railway and architectural terms, with reference to other branch line termini which have been lost – and also in the context of the town’s social history. We showed cine footage of the final day of operation, including twelve coach trains to London and Swansea. We pointed out the importance of celebrating all this significance, and showed how successfully the remaining portion of the branch is being exploited by the SDR for economic and social benefit.

We went on to voice our specific concerns about the current CR Masterplan, and reiterated that with certain alterations, our concerns could be answered with no major impact on the Masterplan’s targets and objectives. We showed that our own objectives are perfectly aligned with the core objectives of Dartmoor National Park and the Masterplan itself.

We exhibited proposals for Stage 1 of a heritage development, a museum and heritage centre in the station building. We then outlined how potential reinstatement of the line could be achieved in two further stages, over a much longer timescale.

We gave an insight into some of the evidence of feasibility we’ve been compiling for our case to DNP, and a forecast of the economic benefit such a development could bring. We showed case studies of recent heritage railway extensions and summarised the economic impact on the economy of the places they served, and looked at the impact where lines had been closed or suspended. Finally, we showed that our cause was eligible for funding by several bodies which specifically offer grants for projects of this kind; we emphasised that this is money that would not, otherwise, come to Ashburton.

We ended on some motivational slides of heritage railways being rebuilt across the country, and overcoming major obstacles to achieve their goals. We also gave an indication of how quickly development costs are returned by the increased turnovers of the railways involved.

Inevitably, questions centred around local concerns, many already pertinent to the existing Masterplan. These included the existing need for extra parking in the town, impact on businesses and premises in the immediate vicinity, concerns over flooding, and access for large vehicles (such as heritage buses) to the site. These are some of the issues we will be giving further attention over the coming weeks, as we start to work with local businesses and try to address their concerns in our proposals.

A warm round of crisp applause showed appreciation of our efforts, and many words of support were offered from the town’s people after the meeting. Some even queued to tell us we have their support. We have invited further feedback, and offered one-to-one meetings to discuss matters further.

We need to brace ourselves for a tough few weeks. We are meeting with DNP Planners on Thursday to discuss options. We have also been granted an opportunity to address DNP Members (who vote on whether to approve the Masterplan) in April. These, as well as working more closely with local businesses to develop and finalise our written proposals, are the priorities for the next few weeks. We’ll keep you posted.

Thanks for your continued interest and support.


Public Meeting 28th February

Welcome to all our new members. Don’t forget, we’ll be holding a Public Meeting at 6.30pm on Saturday 28th February (St Lawrence Chapel, almost opposite Ashburton station), and we’d love for you to come along. It’s an opportunity for us to give the local community an overview of our ambitions, and also to present some of the work we’ve been doing in our bid to persuade DNP Planners to alter their development plan for the station site.

Crucially too, we want to update you on the present situation.

We’re now at a very crucial stage in our campaign to prevent development which may compromise the station’s future potential, and it’s likely there are more tough challenges ahead. Please do come along and show your support, and find out what you can do to help the cause.

Thank you, and see ya’ there.

15th January – Update

A quick update on where we are with the campaign, and what’s been happening over the past few weeks.

At our last meeting in December, a committee was appointed to represent the group. This comprises Alasdair Page (Chairman), Rodney Cox (Vice Chair), David Sheppard (Secretary), Alan Johnson (Online/Planning) and Andrew Roaden (Press Liaison). Andy Stevens will act as Treasurer once mechanisms to receive funding are in place.

As you will know, the planning consultation ended on December 12th. Following an impressive and powerful response from us all, the Dartmoor National Park Authority requested a meeting with us to view the current SDR facility at Buckfastleigh and to survey the potential formation for an extension to Ashburton. This meeting was held on 15 December, attended by Dan Janota (DNPA Senior Planner) and a representative of Buckfastleigh Town Council. SDR representatives gave an insight into the business and community aspects of the railway which impressed the visitors, and gave a wider perspective on what heritage railway activity in Ashburton might bring to the town.

DNPA have now encouraged us to progress a business plan which formally sets out our proposals, and how we intend to finance them, for a sustainable use of the Chuley Road site. This will be considered as part of their planning review. Alan Johnson has been painstakingly progressing this over Christmas, and our draft document is now 75% complete. We hope to have this finished shortly, and ready for you to view at our next meeting (date to be announced here shortly).

We have instigated meetings with both Buckfastleigh and Ashburton Town Councils. We met with the planning body of the former on 5th January, and discussed the likely impact of increased activity in Ashburton on the town of Buckfastleigh. We gained their support.

Last night (13th January), we gave a 10 minute presentation to Ashburton Town Council. This comprised a formal introduction to our aims, a discussion of our proposals and some facts and figures that quantify what heritage railway activity in Ashburton might bring to the town’s economy. We received a very warm response, and the Council is keen to meet with us again and to work with us on our business plan. Representatives from the DNPA approached us afterwards to say they had been impressed by our pitch, and it looks likely that we will be invited to give a similar presentation to their members in due course.

Finally for now, just a word on some of the statements of support we have received from major local and national bodies. Both the SDR Asssociation and SDR Trust have confirmed their full support for our aims. Both are being tremendously supportive in practical terms, too, attending meetings and providing expertise and wisdom to the cause. The Heritage Railway Association have been made aware of the campaign, and Andrew Scott (former Director of the NRM) has voiced the HRA’s support. The Transport Trust, a major national charity headed by Lord McAlpine, has also written to offer its full support, and contributed a very powerful letter to the DNPA consultation accordingly. We’ve also received interest from local MPs.

It’s a tribute to the passion and enthusiasm of everybody on this page and beyond that we’ve managed to influence the planning process at this late stage, and have won such high level support. We must not lose any momentum. Please keep an eye on this page for our next meeting date, where we hope to be able to talk through the next stages of the plan in detail.