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

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