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 reports– “A38 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.