Mel Stride MP, who has spent a decade campaigning for a regular passenger rail service between Okehampton and Exeter via Crediton, says he is “absolutely delighted” that the route has been included in the Government's National Infrastructure Strategy, released alongside the Chancellor's Autumn Spending Review on Wednesday 25th November 2020.
Mel, who worked with local campaigners in Okehampton to bring a regular service back to the town for the first time in decades (see below for a timeline of his involvement), said:
“I am absolutely thrilled. The service will be a huge boost to the local economy in and around Okehampton and will also have a positive impact on Crediton as more people travelling between Okehampton and Exeter stop off to shop. It will provide a valuable service for local residents, especially those without a car, and will also be good for the environment by taking cars off the road. I will be making urgent enquiries to see what final steps need to be taken for services to begin in 2021.”
Independent Borough Councillor for Okehampton North Mike Davies, a former Chair of campaign group OkeRail, said:
“This is a fantastic day for Okehampton and for everyone who has campaigned so hard for so many years to make this a reality. Mel has been ferocious in continually pressing the Government over this and helped us make important break throughs with the Department for Transport. I look forward to enjoying a well-earned pint with him to celebrate when restrictions allow.”
Devon County Councillor Kevin Ball, who has been involved with OkeRail since its creation and has liaised with County Hall over their involvement over issues such as car parking, added:
“I am delighted with this confirmation. Rural communities like ours, desperately need investment in transport infrastructure and our community definitely needs rail connectivity. The Government has spoken often about making sure that investment is evened out across the country, not just spent in London and our major cities, and we have now seen these words backed up by action.”
Photo: With OkeRail Campaigners in 2017.
Mel's Record of Action on the Okehampton to Exeter Railway:
As an MP Mel has held approximately 50 meetings with Government ministers, local councillors, campaigners, and representatives from Great Western Railway and Network Rail to secure a regular passenger rail service between Okehampton and Exeter via Crediton. Below is just a brief snapshot of some Mel’s key contributions.
February 2011 - Mel meets with key local figures in Okehampton, including Dartmoor Railway’s Operations Manager, to put a campaign plan in place to bring a regular passenger rail service back between Okehampton and Exeter. Mel subsequently lobbies in person the directors of the American company which owns much of the railway track.
March 2014 - Mel presses the case for the service in the House of Commons, with the Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin commissioning Network Rail to undertake a study to identify options for providing a resilient rail route west of Exeter.
April 2014 - Mel organises Rail Minister Claire Perry to visit Okehampton and meet with him and local campaigners to listen first-hand to the arguments for the service.
October 2014 - Mel organises Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin to visit Okehampton and to walk the rail track out to Meldon Viaduct with him to see the rail infrastructure already in place along the proposed route. During the visit Mel presses the four main arguments for the service – the lack of rail access for thousands of residents in and around Okehampton, the boost the service would provide to the local economy, the environmental benefits of taking cars off the A30 and the benefits of not relying solely on the Dawlish Line for rail connectivity beyond Exeter.
February 2016 - Mel secures a meeting with the most senior Government minister to date, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne. Mel makes a strong case for the introduction of the service on economic grounds, while also citing concerns over funding for a key Peninsula Rail Task Force Report that will shape the future of rail development in the South West.
July 2016 - Mel holds one of many meetings with local county and borough councillors in and around Okehampton – this time in Hatherleigh – to discuss how other transport links can be organised to connect with the rail service – such as bus services from Hatherleigh to Okehampton.
March 2017 - Mel joins local campaigners on board the first Pullman train in almost half a century to travel directly from Okehampton to London Paddington. The special one off event, organised by Okehampton’s County Councillor, aimed to promote the service and, with the train selling out, demonstrate the commercial demand for rail services from Okehampton. Mel organised for Rail Minister Paul Maynard to welcome the train at Paddington and speak to campaigners about a regular service.
January 2018 - A major milestone - Mel secures the first official commitment from the Government to introduce the service from Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling, who instructed Great Western Railway to prepare plans to introduce regular train services between Exeter and Okehampton delivering “an all-week, all-year train service as soon as reasonably practicable”.
February 2018 - Mel succeeds in getting the Department for Transport to specifically reference an Okehampton to Exeter service in a strategy document outlining its future aspirations for the first time.
March 2018 - Mel holds one of many meetings with Great Western Railway representatives, seeking assurances that the smaller stations on the Okehampton to Exeter route will also be included as stops on the route so residents in these communities benefit from the service as well. These include stops such as Sampford Courtenay and Newton St Cyres.
October 2018 - Mel organises for the Chairman of OkeRail and Okehampton’s Devon County Councillor to meet with Transport Minister Jo Johnson, who confirmed the Department for Transport was still committed to the project but was reliant on a feasibility study being undertaken by Great Western Railway.
April 2019 - Concerned over delays to the feasibility study, due to be completed by the end of 2018, Mel meets with Great Western Railway’s Regional Development Manager, pressing for faster progress.
September 2019 - Mel meets with Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps MP, securing an assurance that the Department for Transport would respond quickly to the feasibility study, when completed, urging the Government to give the service the go ahead in early 2020.
October 2019 - Mel meets with Transport Minister Chris Heaton-Harris MP, securing his help in pushing for further progress with the feasibility study that had been delayed again, fearing that valuable momentum could be lost. Again the Government confirms it remains committed to the project.
November 2020 - Mel welcomes the Government’s official go ahead for the service by releasing a National Infrastructure Strategy document alongside the Chancellor’s Autumn Spending Review that included investment in an Okehampton to Exeter service.