Letter to the North Devon Journal 21 March 2013

So the Tories’ attempt to alter North Devon Council’s budget failed (Journal, 7 March). This is fortunate. Had it succeeded, many things which enrich life in this area would have lost much-needed support.

That said, one body in their proposed hit list merits closer scrutiny, albeit for reasons they probably did not give. This, according to your report, was the Exeter and District Railway Working Party. I have not been able to find anything about this body from the Internet, so must assume that they meant the Devon and Exeter Rail Project Working Party.

This party has proposed a ‘Devon Metro’, a scheme endorsed by Devon County Council for the development of local rail services which centre on Exeter. What needs to be scrutinised here is not so much the scheme itself as the apparent lack of effectiveness of councillors from northern Devon in shaping it.

North Devon Council has had two councillor representatives on the main working party. County councillors from the area have also been involved. Yet a close reading of the project’s reports (web references on NDPTU website: www.ndptu.org.uk) suggests that its primary concerns are for the lines which feed into Exeter from Torbay, Exmouth and Axminster. In so far as the Barnstaple line features at all, it is as an appendage to proposals for the development of these services to the east, south and south west of the county.

To a degree, this is understandable. These routes carry far more passengers than the Barnstaple line. Northern Devon’s population, however, is at least equal to Torbay’s and still expanding. Moreover, the documentation asserts that ‘the rail network is particularly important for many market and coastal towns and their rural hinterlands … giving them fast and direct links to Exeter and the rest of the national rail network’. Yet, the 40-mile journeys between Barnstaple and Exeter Central will take 75 minutes, which is even slower than today’s and much, much slower than the quickest of 30 years ago. Northern Devon’s needs appear to have been ignored.

Even worse, they show no inclination to address the huge costs involved in providing multiple station stops in the sparsely populated areas the line passes through or to consider whether the needs of the people living in them could be better met by other means.

These are serious failings in an otherwise constructive project. Why? Have our councillors no voice? Or is it just that they have no clear view of what the Barnstaple line could do for northern Devon?

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