Another warm welcome to my regular e-newsletter where you can read what I have been doing as your local Member of Parliament for Torridge and West Devon. This edition covers my work in September and October.
With the House of Commons returning from its Summer Recess in September, these past two months have been busy for me as your Member of Parliament both in Westminster and the constituency. I have continued getting out and about across Torridge and West Devon, with a range of visits across the constituency.
I hold regular surgeries and have been handling many hundreds of requests for help and support from my constituents. You may get a feel for the range of issues I can help with below. As ever, if you are a constituent of mine and require my help or advice with any issue, please do not hesitate to contact me. I would be delighted to hear from you.
You can read more about what I have been doing on your behalf in this edition of my newsletter.
Out and About
I’ve been continuing my village drop-in surgeries. Recent sessions include Welcombe, Hartland, Littleham & Landcross, Halwill, Ashreigney, Northam and East-the-Water. Some have been in village halls, others in pubs. The formats have been chosen to make me as accessible as possible to my constituents.
Alongside the drop-in surgeries, I’m continuing surgeries by telephone. If there’s an issue you need my help with, please do contact my office.
Beyond that, I’m working on a range of issues of importance to my constituents with many related to farming including the Fursdon Inquiry about Dartmoor, planning challenges, the Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMS) and Natural England. Health services continue to be a focus of mine including the Bideford Link Service and the difficulty many constituents are facing accessing NHS dentistry services. The Royal Mail letter-post services appear to be getting worse rather than better and as a result I’m now in contact with the Chief Executive of Royal Mail. For some properties, broadband is still ann issue and so I’m working with Connecting Devon & Somerset to get poor coverage fixed.
New Tavistock to Plymouth Rail Link
I am delighted that the Prime Minister has announced the Government has approved the reopening of the Tavistock to Plymouth Railway line with a new station to be built in Tavistock.
This project has been developed over many years, with discussions starting in 2005 and West Devon Borough Council (WDBC) giving its support for a new Railway Station in Tavistock to serve a reopened line in its Core Strategy of 2011. In July 2014, Devon County Council’s (DCC) Cabinet Committee approved the scheme to be taken through the development consent process and to develop a network of trails linking Tavistock to the Tamar Trails Centre. In 2019, I strongly supported the inclusion in the Conservative Manifesto of the pledge to set up a fund for reopening some branch lines closed in the 1960s after the Beeching Report. In January 2020, the Government announced the creation of a £500 million “Restoring Your Railway” Fund for that purpose.
This has been a long-held ambition for which many of us have fought for many years. My thanks to all those who have helped in this fight. This news follows the reopening of the Dartmoor Line, closed in 1968, represents £40.5 million of government funding and the construction of a new Railway station and transport hub at Okehampton, £13.4 million. The investment is the result of our winning Levelling Up bid. It will revolutionise transport communications in and for West Devon and the benefits to our communities will be huge.
In October 2021, we persuaded the Chancellor to grant £50,000 to help prepare the Strategic Business Case for the Secretary of State, which was submitted to him in December 2022. Throughout all this time, we have had to keep up a constant and determined dialogue with the Government to press the case for this link as well as the reopening of the Dartmoor Line from Okehampton to Exeter. Since December last year, while we have awaited the verdict, I have maintained close contact with transport ministers, and it is a source of great satisfaction on behalf of all those who have worked so hard for this outcome, that the minister confirmed to me the Government will finance the reinstatement of this line.
The Minister’s letter to me and that of the CEO of WDBC can be found on my website. I am deeply grateful to all those who have helped in the campaign to get this decision over the line, including the Peninsula Rail Group, DCC and WDBC under successive leaders, who had the foresight in 2011 to begin to plan for it. I shall be meeting Network Rail as soon as possible to discuss the next stages of the project.
My father used to recall travelling to school by train to Tavistock during the war, so I am delighted that trains will run once again to our town for the first time since 1968!
Levelling Up Torridge
Towards the end of October, with Torridge District Council leader Ken James and CEO Steve Hearse, we met the Levelling Up Minister to discuss early timetables and actions for Torridge's Levelling Up Partnership. As many readers will already know, this is one of only 20 districts in the country to share an initial £400 million in direct government investment and comes on top of our winning bid for the Appledore Maritime Innovation Centre (next door to the revived Appledore Shipyard).
I shall be carrying out a wide-ranging consultation on how you think we should use the Levelling Up Partnership; and I will keep pushing the Minister, as well as the Secretary of State himself, to get dates confirmed so that we can make the progress we all want to see in Torridge!
In early September, I held another of my regular farming forums with NFU Hartland and Seckington Dairies. This was another great opportunity for a lively and informative discussion on topical farming matters. Following on from this particular forum, I also met the NFU Deputy President, Tom Bradshaw and Bovine TB policy officers to discuss what more they want to see from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
St Margaret's Church
Also in September, I had the privilege of attending St Margaret's Church for a service of celebration of six hundred years of Christian charitable giving for the Northam Charities Board. It was great to be able to unveil a blue plaque in commemoration of this unbroken tradition, with generations of congregations and residents of Northam having given over the years.
Defibrillator Fund Now Open!
Finally, in case you haven’t seen the update from the Department for Health and Social Care, applications are now open for the £1 million Defibrillator Community Automated External Defibrillators (AED) fund. The Department for Health and Social Care has launched a fund to help fund publicly accessible defibrillators.
This will provide 2,000 new public access defibrillators for communities across England. 1900 applications will receive match funding of £750. You can apply here.