• Peninsular Connections

    Mid Devon Advertiser
    18 November 2016

    Last weekend I attended the Remembrance service in Crediton and laid a wreath at the town’s war memorial. As always, I am grateful to the Royal British Legion who, as guardians of Remembrance do such wonderful work in organising these deeply important occasions. I was also pleased to spend time with a new community initiative in Moretonhampstead where local residents have raised the funds to start a social care community enterprise that will provide social care services direct to residents’ homes across some of the most rurally isolated parts of Dartmoor. Pooling local resources and knowledge with a clear focus on the hardest to reach is a worthy approach and much needed – I have offered my help. I also had the great pleasure of joining OkeRail for their consultation day in Okehampton. Transport connectivity into the peninsular has long been inadequate and I have pressed hard over many years for a newly invigorated rail route between Exeter and Plymouth running north of the moor. This would provide Okehampton with a new regular service to Exeter and so on to London and beyond. The need for this is clear – the northern part of the peninsular is underprovided with rail – if you live in Bude then you are around 55 miles from a mainline station – the equivalent of having to travel from London to Brighton just to catch a train.  A few years back I brought the then Rail Minister and Secretary of State for Transport to Okehampton on separate occasions to hear the arguments and, in the case of the Secretary of State to walk with me out over Meldon viaduct to discuss how the route might be secured. I met with George Osborne in Downing Street when he was Chancellor to take him through the arguments and on the formation of the new government I was right at the front of the queue to lobby our new Chancellor. The case for new rail investment is not just about reaching rurally sparse communities but about resilience and sensible economics too. The peninsular is currently far too reliant on the route through Dawlish which was dramatically severed a couple of years ago due to the collapse of the sea wall. The result was severely interrupted rail services which bore a painful economic cost to the peninsula’s economy of over a billion pounds. We have also suffered flooding at Cowley Bridge in Exeter which led to severe travel cancellations and delays. Rural wages in the peninsular and especially in West Devon are amongst the lowest in the country. Yet increasing skills and enterprising, hardworking communities abound in our part of the world. What we need now is to have the infrastructure to connect our rural communities and market towns to our larger towns and cities. This will not happen overnight but the work of Okerail and others is key to ensuring that this aspiration has a real prospect of success. More on Okerail at