The value of heritage railways to their local economies has often been overlooked by local authorities, particularly in smaller rural locations, where often they provide a larger proportion of the local economy than they would in a larger town or city.
An all party parliamentary report was published in July 2013, it was commissioned to;
‘establish the current and future value of heritage railways to the local and national economy; to identify the contributions they make to their local community including education and training, employment, sustainable tourism and health and wellbeing as well as the Big Society; to establish best practice amongst heritage railways; and to identify and advise on current and future Government policy affecting the heritage railway industry on the value of heritage railways’.
It has helped to highlight the economic value of heritage railways to their locality. The report states that the ratio of the estimated economic value to the organisation’s turnover figure ranges from 0.84 (Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways) to 6 (North York Moors Railway). Using these figures and those of a few other railways the report estimates the mean ratio to be 2.71, if this figure is applied to the South Devon Railways’ turnover for last year then it would put the economic value to the area at approximately £6.35 million. (Calculated from the turnover of the South Devon Railway Trust £2,343,260 for 2013 multiplied by 2.71).
One other interesting thing to come out of the parliamentary report is the following;
The Severn Valley Railway was closed for much of the 2007 season as a result of severe damage to the infrastructure caused by flooding. This not only had a devastating effect on the railway, but also severely affected many other catering and retail establishments in the valley where it is the principal tourist attraction, particularly in the town of Bridgnorth.
“Several years ago the Severn Valley Railway was closed for a period of 8 months as a result of flooding, and I’m reliably told that during that time 12 local businesses closed and W H Smith, who used to be open 7 days a week, closed their shop on the Sundays. And I went to the European Commission and they said, “You don’t have to say anything, we have already agreed €750,000 for you”. Therefore it is not just theories and academic studies, we have seen for real what happens when the local rail track dies, and it impressed the people in Brussels enough to realise quite a significant amount of money without having to go through all the normal procedures.” David Morgan (HRA Chairman).
We feel that this report helps to support the economic forecasts we are putting forward in this proposal and shows how important heritage railways have become to the economy of this country as well as being guardians of an important part of our history.
The economic benefits of our proposal can be divided into two parts;
- Short to medium term – operating as Ashburton Station Heritage and Educational Centre; and
- Long term – operating as Ashburton Station Heritage Centre with a heritage train service connecting to Buckfastleigh, Staverton and Totnes, run by the South Devon Railway.
Short Term Economic Benefits
Friends of Ashburton Station intend to work very closely with the South Devon Railway, working together we can offer visitors a much improved experience and it almost immediately gives Ashburton Heritage Centre access to a potential 110,000 visitors.
Working closely with local businesses and the town councils of Ashburton and Buckfastleigh we could promote the virtues of the area and attract tourists and holiday makers to stay locally, visit the many attractions we have and spend their money with us.
Ashburton Station has always been a very popular station with railway enthusiasts, it has been used as the subject of a great many model railways too, this is because it was the quintessential branchline terminus, and was so nearly rescued. Thus there is a potential attraction almost as soon as we acquire the old station, a good tidy up and railway enthusiasts from around the country would be very interested to come and see the old station before we even begin restoration.
The restoration would itself would attract new volunteers from all age groups to come and turn their hands to new skills, whilst providing us with valuable volunteer labour they would also be spending their money in the town, buying lunch, materials and other supplies. The visitors who can be brought to the site from Buckfastleigh by a heritage bus will help us raise money to continue our project and will also visit the town, spending their money on the various merchandise Ashburton has available.
We would look to have a policy to source materials, where possible, from local businesses as we feel that it is important to look after the local economy, working together we can all be stronger.
Long Term Economic Benefits
The potential long term economic benefits of our proposal would be much greater than for the short term. Heritage railways have played an important role in supporting the economies of their locality, having heritage train services running to and from Ashburton will be a huge boost for the town. A train delivering potentially 200 people right into the town centre, without adding any addition traffic to the already over utilised roads and car parks.
Ashburton has a lot to offer potential visitors, it has a lot of shops which cater for the tourist which would make the job of encouraging people into the town far easier, with the added bonus of it being just a 2 minute very easy walk away.
We believe that for the first 2 to 3 years of Ashburton Station being reconnected to the South Devon Railway would see a large increase in the visitor numbers on the line, a lot of them would make an effort to visit because we had something new to offer. After this period numbers would most likely reduce gradually to a steady level, which we would expect to be higher than before Ashburton was reconnected. The added attractions that Ashburton could ‘unlock’ for the railway would help encourage tourists to come and spend their holiday locally. The operation of the heritage and learning facilities at the site will help to encourage additional visitors, from educational institutes and people with an interest in the heritage of the area.
Working with local businesses to offer a great package we could tap into a larger proportion of the £6.35 million benefits to the local economy, and improve upon that figure. The expansion of the railway also offers potential benefits to the local economy, running more services and with a larger turnover, the railway will require additional paid staff for roles that cannot realistically be performed by volunteers. These additional staff will most likely be from the local area and which again helps keep the money the railway earns in the local economy.
As mentioned in the parliamentary report, heritage railways are, at least when up and running, self-sufficient and do not require additional government funding to provide their valuable services. They form a sustainable method of transporting tourists and stimulating the local economy, on top of that because of the nature of railways they are unable to move out of the area as possible with other attractions. The large numbers of volunteers from all walks of life make the sustainability of heritage lines possible, without their valued labour it would be a very difficult task to run such an undertaking. This will help keep other businesses in the town centre because that is where their customers will be ‘delivered’ to.
The addition money brought into the town by the presence of the railway will help other local businesses to plan for the future with a better reassurance that they will have visitors, this will in turn allow them to employ additional staff, creating more local jobs for local people.
As part of our longer term aim, we would like to allow for the provision of parking for Ashburton, it is envisaged that the will be ample room between the railway and Chuley Road from the old engine house approximately adjacent to the halfway point of the auction rooms car park, this space should give room for parking of approximately 50 cars, and could form part of a long stay carpark for the town. With the right planning the parking spaces can be provisioned for using sustainable materials and help alleviate flood risks at the lower end of Chuley Road.
Summary of Economic Benefits
- Sustainably strengthens local economy.
- Maximises economic benefits from tourism.
- Volunteers spending additional money in, and using local businesses.
- Supplies and services required by heritage / educational centre and railway source locally where possible.
- Sustainable transport method for visitors to Ashburton.
- Potential new paid job opportunities both directly and indirectly related to the heritage / educational centre and railway.