Notes on Meeting of PC with Devizes Development Partnership (DDP)
held in Stert House on Monday 13th July at 6 pm
DDP: Iain Wallis (IW), Richard Gamble (RG)
Stert PC: Clive Boyes (CB), Alick Edwards (AE), Lucy Barker (LB), Ann Harris (AH), Chris Lawrence (CL), William Howkins (WH)
The meeting was held between two members of the DDP and Stert PC. The meeting was called by DDP to update the PC on the status of the proposals for a new railway station at Lydeway.
Richard Gamble introduced himself as a director of the DDP, a Wiltshire councillor and chairman of the Devizes Community Area Transport Group (CATG). Ian Wallis is chairman of the DDP and a Devizes businessman.
In February 2018, when DDP (represented by Peter Lay) last briefed the village on their proposals, a plan was shown for a station, comprising two platforms with a foot bridge linking them and a large carpark adjacent to the station. The access road was shown branching off the A342 just below the Etchilhampton turnoff and after swinging in an arc northwards into the field belonging to Richard Hill, then running parallel to the railway line. The station and car park were shown on the north side of the railway by the existing airstrip. Also shown on the plans was a housing development in Richard Hill’s field. The proposal for the housing development was strongly opposed by members of the audience at that meeting. A response as part of the consultation for the renewal of the GWR franchise was submitted by DDP to Network Rail in February 2018 in which the new station was proposed.
At Monday’s meeting, RG summarised the changes that had occurred since 2018. Devizes was the largest town in Wiltshire which is not served by rail and DDP had received strong support for the proposal from Danny Kruger, MP for Devizes, who thought that it would stand a good chance to receive funding from the Government’s £500 million fund to help towns develop plans for new railway lines and stations. Devizes is estimated to have a population of 37,000 by 2026.
What is needed now is for DDP to complete the study to prove the economic and technical feasibility of the scheme. He explained that the developments in rolling stock offered an opportunity to achieve an hourly service for Devizes, The existing long distance trains were too heavy and slow to stop and start and were not suited for stopping at smaller country stations. A new generation of five coach binary trains, electric/diesel powered, which were lighter and more powerful, could operate an hourly service stopping at Gt. Bedwyn, Pewsey, Devizes, Frome and Westbury. This was entirely feasible and there was sufficient capacity on the line for such a service without conflicting with the through fast service London-Reading-Newbury- Westbury-Yeovil etc.
A key feature of the proposals was connectivity with the north/south services operating through Westbury. This would offer a service to Bath and Bristol, as well as south to Southhampton. RG said that in discussions with GWR, they had shown interest in the proposed new station and saw an opportunity to take some of the traffic load off the congested Swindon line.
IW explained the need for businesses to attract skilled workers to work in Devizes. At present there was a definite constraint in attracting qualified staff due to the lack of a rail service to the town. He also said that international visitors were put off attending meetings in Devizes as it was not served by a rail. RG said that from his time as WC Councillor for education, he found that a much smaller percentage of school leavers in Devizes went on to further education than elsewhere in Wiltshire due to the lack of a rail service. He also stressed the importance of a rail connection for the development of tourism in Devizes, with its archeological sites, the canal and the open landscape. Whilst the station would serve commuters travelling from Devizes, that is not intended to be its primary function.
The Devizes station project is one of 10 schemes in the country that has been approved to make a ‘strategic outline business case’ for a station. RG informed that a consultant, WS Atkins, had just been selected to carry our the feasibility study. DDP had received £50,000 from the Department for Transport (from a ‘Restoring your Railway’ fund) and Wiltshire Council had pledged £25,000 towards the cost of the study. The study is due to be submitted by the end of September. He emphasised that at the present stage, no definite plans had been submitted and all options were on the table as far as layout, access road etc, was concerned. The only thing fixed was the location of the station by the airfield opposite Lydeway as this was the nearest level straight section of track to Devizes. There would have to be access by sustainable means, so a cycle path between Devizes and the station would be essential. The route is currently undecided.
He also stated categorically that the housing shown on the 2018 plans were not part of the project and there was no way that such housing would be considered in open countryside. Peter Lay is now only involved peripherally. Danny Kruger has stressed that this project should be identified with community involvement and that was why DDP had wanted to meet with Stert PC. LB pointed out that the original plan, showing the housing development, were still shown on the website and suggested that this drawing should be removed so that it was quite clear that this was no longer being considered.
At this stage, it was thought that the project would cost around £15 million and that it could be built in five years.