RECOVERING from Storm Ciaran, which disrupted large parts of the South West last week, means getting our vital transport links back to their usual schedule, writes MP Anne Marie Morris.
Having road and rail links that connect our peninsula to the remainder of the UK is essential. The government has recently launched the new Network North programme that, despite its name, will help enhance the connections we already have here in the South West, making our rail more resilient and our roads less potholed.
This can all be done because the Prime Minister made the correct decision to revise High Speed Rail 2 plans. The costs of the project, both environmental and economic, are already very significant, with the financial cost in particular having grown far beyond initial estimates.
Some of the £36 billion that is being redistributed is heading to us in the South West, with a similar amount to the £9.4 million given to Devon last year for potholes being awarded again and a commitment from the government that ensures the remaining parts of the South West Rail Resilience Programme will be completed. It is now a matter of when and not if.
The Dawlish line has come a long way since the sea wall came down in 2014. We have seen the sea wall rebuilt, enhanced rock protection put in place through the incredible rockfall shelter at the northern end of Parsons Tunnel, and accessibility upgrades are being installed within Dawlish station.
We now just have the final phase of the programme to complete along the cliffs at Teignmouth. We’ve had commitment from the government that this stage will be completed. I’ll be keeping an eye out for the Chancellors Autumn Statement at the end of the month to ensure we get those commitments made very publicly from the dispatch box. The flip-side of having a resilient railway is for passengers to be able to use it. I was delighted to see this week that Transport Focus has rejected GWR’s plans to remove ticket offices from Newton Abbot, Dawlish, Starcross and Teignmouth stations.
With your help, I lobbied along with many others, to stop this plan. Thank you for your letters to me and directly to the consultation. Together we stopped it happening. This shows just how powerful your voices can be. These offices are not just about selling tickets but about help and advice to ensure we can buy the cheapest ticket and select the best route. No machine can do that, and online ticket sales don’t give you those options.
Vulnerable groups and tourists rely on face-to-face guidance and may be put off travelling if it’s not easy.
Another vital rural transport option is the bus. The Prime Minister recently committed to keeping the £2 bus fare which was due to expire at the end of October. This will now keep going until the end of 2024. While the government is helping to keep the fare down, more must be done to ensure that these services are run reliably.
I have held meetings with Devon County Council’s Transport representatives and will be meeting Stagecoach soon to ensure that vital routes are maintained even if passenger numbers are still not back up to pre-Covid levels.
But it is not just the usual bus services that support rural communities like ours. We are also extremely lucky to have community support groups like East Teignbridge/Dawlish Community Transport and Newton Abbot Community Transport which despite their names cover a huge geographic area. These charities provide invaluable local community transport for those who cannot otherwise get around, whether to see the doctor, make a hospital appointment, do some shopping, or go on a trip with friends. Teams of volunteers make independent living possible and fun.
Transport matters in rural communities where local amenities are not in walking distance. Making sure everyone can travel when they want and need to is important and will always be on my agenda!