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South Devon Railway Statement

The Masterplan recommendations about the future of the Chuley Road site in Ashburton have now been published on the Dartmoor National Park Authority (DNPA) website ahead of the DNPA meeting to determine the future of the area this coming Friday, 5th June.

Whilst strong local lobbying  by the ‘Friends of Ashburton Station’ has highlighted the town’s unique railway heritage and also gained considerable local support from businesses and townspeople to safeguard the route and station for the future,  their campaigning would appear to have fallen on deaf ears with the DNPA planners, resulting in just minor changes within the Masterplan.

Commenting on the report, South Devon Railway Trust Chairman Alan Taylor said:

“The South Devon Railway Trust has supported the ambitions of the Friends of Ashburton Station in seeking to protect the old station buildings and route of the former railway from development so that our steam trains might once again return to the Dartmoor town at some point in the future.”

“So, we read the conclusions of the Dartmoor National Park Authority (DNPA) report with both sadness and disappointment — a veritable railway heritage gem of the Great Western Railway in Ashburton station has not been safeguarded from development, and the unique opportunity to protect the railway’s route into the town for the future and the considerable benefit of the town which it would bring has seemingly been spurned.”

“Despite letters of support from DNPA following a previous engineering feasibility study about our trains perhaps returning to Ashburton, we were not consulted during the recent consultation into the Chuley Road Masterplan and were only made aware of the details at a very late stage in the process.”

“As a result, our opportunity to provide fully detailed proposals for returning the railway to Ashburton was severely limited. Whilst additional information was provided to the DNPA planners during the last few months, we were still not consulted during the creation of the “Ashburton Railway – Appraisal of Options Report (April 2015)” which contains many inaccuracies.

“We still believe that failing to safeguard a route for a future railway reconnection is a lost opportunity that Ashburton will regret. We also hope that this decision by DNPA doesn’t result in the town sleepwalking into oblivion by adopting a plan that draws people away from the town centre rather than bringing them to it.”

“So, I make a final appeal to the members of the Dartmoor National Park Authority to think again ahead of this decision and to come and visit the South Devon Railway this week to see how we operate and what Ashburton might be missing out on – they will be made very welcome!”

An appraisal of the railway proposals, including the town’s former railway station, can be seen at Item A5:- http://www.dartmoor.gov.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/575863/For-Web-FDraft-Appendicies.compressed.pdf.

For a general overview of the Chuley Road scheme and links to other relevant publications, see: – http://www.dartmoor.gov.uk/planning/pl-forwardplanning/masterplans-and-development-briefs/ashburton-masterplan

Friends of Ashburton Station – Response to DNPA Ashburton Railway Appraisals.

We are extremely disappointed to read the recommendations made by DNPA planners in the final draft of the Chuley Road Masterplan. In not recommending that former railway land is safeguarded for future reinstatement, it is clear that DNP’s desire for short-term development (and immediate wish to sign-off the Masterplan) has totally eclipsed calls from our community for a scheme with the potential to bring major long-term benefits to the town.

We are not, however, surprised. DNPA failed to consult any railway bodies during the creation of the Masterplan, in spite of a letter of support from DNPA officers for an earlier engineering feasibility study into the reconnection of Ashburton station to the line at Buckfastleigh. DNPA has been unable to offer any kind of justification for this, and therefore the community must draw its own conclusions regarding the integrity and fairness of the Masterplan process.

The lack of railway consultation has severely disadvantaged our community’s ability to make a case for the retention of the trackbed and to have it fairly heard. We feel that DNPA’s requirements for ‘evidence’ to support our case for alterations were wholly unachievable in the timescale allowed, and that consequently our case has been judged unfavourably and unfairly dismissed.

Furthermore, the reports themselves contain some major errors which would not have been made if they had been correctly undertaken and informed by sufficient research on the part of DNPA planners. We strongly question the validity of a report appraising the reopening of a railway in which not a single official railway body has been consulted by DNPA.

We would like to offer some corrections to the reports which we feel could otherwise lead to misrepresentation:

  • Stated at various points in the reports –“Compulsory purchase powers would not be available to acquire the land and DNPA has been advised that the likelihood of acquiring the land by private negotiation is remote.”

Correction – A railway, even if a heritage line, is a statutory body incorporated in law by an act of parliament. It can therefore seek to obtain compulsory purchase powers. These powers have been exercised by several heritage railways.

  • Stated in the reportsA38 crossing (Buckfastleigh) – in order to achieve this crossing (proposed in the feasibility study as a tunnel structure beneath the dual carriageway) land will be required beneath the A38, and part of Meadow Park (park homes site). This could involve the direct loss of approximately 4 residential properties, and an immediate impact upon at least a further 5 properties.”

Correction – Our proposed route avoids the loss of any residential properties – even if the original River Dart crossing point was used, it would result in the loss of only one residential property.

  • Stated in the report– “Mogul’s Palace (Dart Bridge) – land would be required in order to achieve the bridge approach to the River Dart crossing, the crossing of the River Ashburn, and a tunnel or new bridge structure beneath the B3380 at the Dart Bridge interchange (adjacent to the River Ashburn culvert). This area has a number of engineering challenges to overcome within a relatively small area. Aside from the cost and feasibility of the engineering works, the land acquisition cost and ability to acquire such land is currently unknown. The scale of the work and land take is likely to result in little residual land value for the remainder of this site.”

Correction – Our proposed route at this point would be to the eastern side of the Ashburn which is currently little more than waste / scrub land. It would have a minimal if any effect on the Mogul’s Palace site.

  • Stated in the report– “It is also important to bear in mind that the intention is not just to achieve a physical rail link, but to create a heritage rail line attractive to visitors. Whilst there may be opportunities to create a route tight with the A38 in places in order to limit land take and engineering works, this may not be desirable in this respect.”

Correction – Our proposed route would be tight to the A38 for the reasons set out above but it would have little effect on the attractiveness of this section of the line as views are limited by the general lay of the terrain anyway. The attractive ‘draw’ for visitors is the destination of Ashburton town centre.

  • Stated in the report –“…visitors will inevitably be attracted direct to Ashburton by private car. Whilst a business model might aim to encourage them [to] Buckfastleigh, the attraction of joining the railway at one end or the other, rather than part way along the line may well mean this aim only has limited success.”

Comment – There are many heritage railways that successfully attract passengers to start their journey at their headquarters that are not a terminus of the line.

  • Stated in the report – “Peartree Cross– ….Landowners in this location have not been approached by FoAS, and DNPA has been advised that land may not be available for this use.”

Correction – We have made initial contact with the main landowner at Peartree Cross. – Also see below.

  • Stated in the report“No evidence of landowner support. Little evidence of community support.”

Comment – We were advised by officers of DNPA not to consult with landowners, the officers also pleaded with us “not to get any more letters of support” as they “had received enough correspondences” and did not want any more. How can it be reported there is limited evidence of community support after advising us of that?

  • Stated in the report “South Devon Railway has advised the proposal was for a station at Peartree as it was not considered possible to extend the scope of the work to include the crossing of the Peartree junction at that point in time. However once beyond that junction it was considered a relatively simple engineering operation given the existence of the track bed for much of the remaining route. It was also considered that the significant cost of extending the route to Ashburton Station was beyond fundraising capabilities at that time.”

Correction – The South Devon Railway actually stated the reason the feasibility study was undertaken by Exeter University students and due to time restrictions they could not complete the full study they would have liked to, so the decision was taken to reduce the scope of the study to before Peartree Cross. There was no attempt to raise funds for the project at the time as the South Devon Railway was concentrating on obtaining the Freehold of the current line. If the project had been undertaken it was never a consideration to have the station at Peartree but to take the line all the way to the original station.

 

Whilst we welcome DNPA’s increased recognition of the heritage significance of the station buildings, they have ignored our warnings that the viability of a Heritage Centre on the site is dependent on safeguarding the potential for reinstatement of the line. Our research, recently presented to DNP Members, suggests that future rail development is key to unlocking the funding and effort required to establish and maintain a Heritage Centre.

Having secured a meeting in April with DNPA’s governing Members, in which we demonstrated the potential long term benefits of safeguarding the trackbed, we hope that Members will not accept the recommendations of this flawed report from their planners.

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.

David

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.

Ashburton Station Needs YOUR Help

After a meeting with Dartmoor National Park on the 27th January 2015 we have been given a huge list of information that Dartmoor National Park will require to be able to safeguard Ashburton Station and the old trackbed through the Chuley Road development area.

We have been given the almost impossible deadline of the 24th February 2015 to have all this information together.

Below is the list we have been given, please take a good look through and if you can offer us any assistance with anything please contact us. Also if you know of any companies that would like to help, please ask them to contact us.

Time is very much against us now, this is likely to be the last chance of ever returning a railway to Ashburton

We will soon need to raise funds to purchase the Station and safe guard the land which the old trackbed passed through. Our first stage estimates to save the most ‘at risk’ plots are something in the region of £3 million – which is no small sum – but is not impossible.

We have to finalise our constitution before we can actually accept any funds but if you would like to help save Ashburton Station and return the railway to Ashburton please send us a pledge, we will get back to you when we launch our fundraising. Our Donations page is Here

Here is the list Dartmoor National Park have given us, the Bold text is the list and in Italic are our comments / progress. Please also read through Our Proposal which will help answer some questions about what we are trying to achieve.

A detailed plan showing the route identified for a new line between Buckfastleigh and Ashburton, together with information regarding land ownership and any progress or understanding of this to date.

We have in our possession the feasibility study that was undertaken by Exeter University Students in 1997, this does go some way towards answering the above point but ideally it could do with updating.


Information regarding specific civil engineering / infrastructure required for a scheme on this route, cost estimates for this, including the track itself.

Again we have some calculations from the 1997 feasibility study but these need to be re-worked and the section under the Pear Tree road junction up to the station needs to be calculated as it was purely estimated before.


Evidence, information, expectation or assumptions you have on land cost estimates within the Masterplan site, and on the route of the new line.

We could really do with having current and potential price valuations for all of the land required between Buckfastleigh and Ashburton Station but particularly the land / properties with in the Chuley Road Development Site.


Evidence you have on constraints to delivery (planning / environmental issues), and risk.

A business case – proposals for Buckfastleigh, Ashburton and the wider line – how do you consider the line will operate?

What function (recreational or wider) will it serve?  Do you have a projection of visitor numbers?  Do you have any other revenue projections, or estimates of secondary benefits? How have you considered different approaches or scales of work, including costs and projected visitor numbers –
Public access to the Station Buildings, with interpretation around its history
Railway Heritage Centre at the Station, a visitor attraction, but not with a physical rail link
The opening of a line to the edge of Ashburton (as per your earlier feasibility study)
The opening of a line to the original station


What is your preferred proposal, and how is it intended that it is funded?
Over what timescale is it expected that the project might be delivered?
What assumptions have you made in putting together the information?
What are the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to the project?

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.

Press Release | 17th December 2014

Wednesday, December 17 2014

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Supporters plan heritage centre for threatened Ashburton Station

Plans for a new heritage centre in the heart of Ashburton to celebrate the town’s railway history are being developed by campaigners – and could see the return of trains to the Dartmoor town more than 45 years after the last steam special ran.

The announcement by the Friends of Ashburton Station is in response to development plans for the former station site created by Dartmoor National Park Authority (DNPA) which could see the station building and engine shed demolished. The group is seeking to secure the future of the historic Victorian railway complex and, in the longer term, reconnect it to the South Devon Railway, which runs from Totnes to Buckfastleigh. The tracks to Ashburton were severed in 1971 when the A38 dual carriageway was built.

DNPA Senior Forward Planner Dan Janota met representatives of the Friends at Buckfastleigh on December 15 to see how the South Devon Railway has benefitted the town for almost 50 years, and understand how the Authority can help the group develop its proposals. The Friends have already secured support from high profile organisations including the Heritage Railway Association, Transport Trust and South Devon Railway Trust. A petition to the DNPA had received 2,300 signatures in favour of saving the station site with numbers continuing to grow.

“We had a very positive meeting with Mr Janota,” says Friends of Ashburton Station Chairman Alasdair Page: “and the next step is to make a compelling case that our aspirations are credible, achievable and above all, of real benefit to Ashburton and the surrounding area. The race to save Ashburton station is firmly on, and we look forward to working with the DNPA and all other interested parties to secure these remarkable structures for future generations.

“There is a real opportunity to create a very special centre in Ashburton looking at the importance of the railway to the town and explaining why branch lines such as this were so vital to small towns until the 1960s. Creation of a heritage centre using the surviving railway buildings is key to this ambition, as is safeguarding the railway formation to Buckfastleigh for eventual reconnection with the South Devon Railway.”

The Friends of Ashburton Station are developing plans for the heritage centre in detail with draft proposals planned for early 2015. The South Devon Railway has agreed in principle to loan a locomotive and carriage for static display at Ashburton Station when the heritage centre opens.