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Cameron promises high profile HS2 rail 'will not be built at the expense of the Westcountry'

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: February 13, 2014

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David Cameron at Prime Minister's question time today

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David Cameron has told Parliament the Government will look at “longer-term alternatives” to the crumbling rail mainline at Dawlish as he promised a £42 billion line from London to the North will not be “built at the expense of the Westcountry”.

At Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday, Mr Cameron responded to a campaign kick-started by the Western Morning News warning of the parlous state of the region’s network while public money is to be lavished on the north-south High Speed 2 (HS2) rail link.

The Prime Minister attempted to ease concerns by arguing that fears the Westcountry will lose out is a “misapprehension”. Network Rail has said reinstating the most expensive cross-country Westcountry rail line would cost £700 million – a fraction of the £42 billion to be sunk into HS2.

He underlined how the Government would examine a second Devon and Cornwall rail link against calls to re-route the line, and announced £31 million for rail flood resilience – though the region has been waiting since May last year for cash to be approved.

Also during his weekly grilling, Mr Cameron backed a Westcountry PR campaign to boost tourism once the storm-stricken Dawlish rail line had been fixed, as one MP said “over-sensationalising” coverage was hurting the industry.

Alison Seabeck, Labour MP for Plymouth Moor View, told the Prime Minister that people in the South West were angry at the “excessive cost” of HS2 while they were stuck with a railway knocked out by storms.

Mr Cameron said three times more money than the budget for HS2 would be spent around the country on road and rail schemes in the next Parliament, adding: “I totally understand your concern and the concern of your constituents. I don’t want anyone to be under the misapprehension that HS2 is going to be built at the expense of the west country – it isn’t.”

He added: “While we are working as fast as we can to restore the Dawlish link, we do need to look at longer-term alternatives – and I have discussed this with Network Rail and First Great Western – to see what more can be done.”

Asked by South West Devon Conservative MP Gary Streeter about “finding long-term solutions to providing rail resilience in the far South West”, Mr Cameron committed £31 million to fund ten rail-resilience projects in the South West.

The announcement follows

a Network Rail report in May following last year’s flooding that saw the region cut off twice after floods at Cowley Bridge near Exeter.

A cross-party group of Westcountry MPs this week wrote to transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin complaining about the delay. Improvements include work at Cowley Bridge junction, and strengthening at Honiton and Crewkerne, but the Department for Transport could not say last night when the money would be available.

And after Liberal Democrat MP for Torbay Adrian Sanders blamed the loss of trade on “over-sensationalising” coverage of the crisis, Mr Cameron vowed to take “every opportunity” to help restore tourism in the South West.

Mr Sanders, whose coastal constituency in South Devon is one of the worst-affected regions, asked: “When the crisis is over, will you talk to the Treasury about allocating a sum of money to market the South West to potential visitors and businesses to get the message across that we really are open for business?”

Mr Cameron replied by saying that fixing the storm-stricken Dawlish rail line along the Devon coast would be a good moment to market the region.

He said: “This was a point made to me by a number of businesses that I visited in Cornwall and Devon over the last couple of days, all wanting to see much more advertising and publicity about how Devon and Cornwall are open for business.

“So I will take every opportunity I have to help with that issue. I think when the Dawlish line is restored that will be a big moment to really market the benefits of Devon and Cornwall, where I have been known to holiday myself.”

He also appeared to back three-hour rail services to Plymouth after questioned by city Tory MP Oliver Colvile.

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8 comments

  • DipStick  |  February 14 2014, 9:32AM

    @josdave: " ... But we have a Tory government and HS2 will make the fat cats fetter so who do you thing Cameron will support?". Sorry, but HS2 originates from the EU (look up TEN-T) and as such ANY party in power would be building it. We, the electorate, of course, get NO say in how they spend the billions to make our communting life "better"! DS

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  • josdave  |  February 13 2014, 7:55PM

    The money that is going to be wasted on HS2 could be used to update many lines not just her in the West. But we have a Tory government and HS2 will make the fat cats fetter so who do you thing Cameron will support?

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  • break  |  February 13 2014, 4:57PM

    Cornwall is like "the land that time forgot" not just in terms of railway infrastructure, everything needs updating.When Camoron says "we don't need to take money out of the foreign aid budget because Britain is a wealthy country" then we could ask why services in Cornwall are being cut to such an extent that parts of Cornwall are resembling third world countries. Lessons could be learnt from these tragedies, but until those in the wrong admit they are at fault then nothing can be changed,so thus,we're prone to this happening again.

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  • DipStick  |  February 13 2014, 4:09PM

    Seems there's a lot of HS2 supporters down here ..... DS

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  • DipStick  |  February 13 2014, 1:33PM

    "I don't want anyone to be under the misapprehension that HS2 is going to be built at the expense of the west country – it isn't. ..." But it will still be built because the real government in Brussels has said we have to! @charlesA941: I have no idea what you wrote below! DS

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  • charlesA941  |  February 13 2014, 10:31AM

    I learn from successive governments that not every area is deemed economically important enough. The natural emergency elsewhere may rightly push the local rail relacement down the list.The army i s defining by its attendance where the main geotechnical emergencies exist not to be immediatey shelved.Sad but a fact like death.The FloodPlanearea of Wraysbury and the visit ofTheMayorOfRotterdam for instance is tellingUK to accept the course of natural development hence sacricial development is ironically now the only alternative. Its no the money alone;its the awful fact of a continuous re-attendance by the army unless this hard fact is acted upon.The army is attempting a grand job to tell us inUK where the Government must take priority planning in preference to any nice places we all loved to think of as our easy right of way afore the tragedies.

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  • A_P_Bruton  |  February 13 2014, 4:38AM

    There is a petition on the Government's website calling for the re-opening of the Plymouth–Tavistock–Okehampton–Exeter line. The missing section is less than 20 miles between Bere Alston (on the Gunnislake line) and Meldon Quarry (on a freight line near Okehampton). http://tinyurl.com/oxk5f66 Given the already existing, semi-serious plans by Devon County Council to re-instate the line from Bere Alston and Tavistock, completing the whole line is really not that big a deal, especially when compared with HS2!

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