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Major improvements to an historic Brunel railway station will be made after councillors backed the second phase of the £80m scheme to protect the railway line at Dawlish.
The Network Rail scheme to aims to protect the line and passengers from the coastal elements and will help Dawlish to become more resilient to the effects of climate change.
The plans for the section of 415m between Coastguards and Colonnade breakwaters, includes a new taller sea wall incorporating a high-level wider and safer public promenade, pedestrian access to the beach.
An accessible footbridge with lifts for the railway station that would allow anyone to access either platform is also included, while restoration work would take place on the rooms in the downside station platform building.
Teignbridge District Council’s planning committee on Tuesday morning, after nearly three hours of debate and discussion, granted approval for the project, as well as granting Listed Building Consent for the works that would affect the Grade II Listed Dawlish railway station
Officers had outlined that the works would result in some harm to the heritage assets, but that while Historic England had raised their concerns, they had not formally objected, and the committee heard planners thought there was clear and convincing justification for the proposed development and that the public benefit outweighed the harm to the heritage assets.
Planning permission would be subject to an acceptable design for the accessible lift bridge and the proposed wall adjacent to the station building which are currently not considered to the sympathetic to the heritage asset.
Colin Field, from Network Rail, calling for the plan to be approved said: “There have been practically had no objections to this and predominant support locally for the investment. I have never known a project of this scale have so few objections, and almost unheard of to have more letters of support than objections.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to deliver improvements to the railway. Will deliver resilience, protect the station and the listed building from rising sea levels to give it 140 years more of life, and deliver a truly better public realm promenade accessible for all.”
The proposed scheme consists of a new taller seawall between the Station and Coastguards Breakwater with a recurve and a high-level promenade connecting the Coastal Path between Marine Parade and the section to Dawlish Warren.
A reconstructed Dawlish Water basin will reduce the wave energy and improve protection in the Colonnades area and also provide a new public space improving the experience of the public as they enter the seafront, while enhancements to Dawlish Station such as a new accessible bridge and reinstating a waiting room on platform 1 are made possible by the new sea wall, improving the travel experience of those with mobility issues, suitcases or young children.
The second phase of the overall £80m works follow on from phase one of the Dawlish sea wall scheme which has seen at Marine Parade the wall raised from its current height of 5m to 7.5m, widen the walkway to 4m from its current 3.1m width, and include a barrier between the pedestrians and the edge of the to stop people falling off the wall.
And Cllr Linda Petherick said: “If the second phase doesn’t go ahead, it will negate the purpose of the first phase. Unless it goes ahead, the rail service will still be subject to disruption as the rail tracks will still flood in extreme conditions. To prevent Dawlish from becoming a ghost town, we have to accept this solution for Dawlish from Network Rail.”
Cllr Linda Goodman-Bradbury added: “This will have a huge impact on the town and there is no going back here. The decision comes down to balance. We need to balance the legacy that Brunel gave to the town and the 1846 station, but we have to balance it is a main line artery and vital for the prosperity of Devon and Cornwall, and we know how important the railway line is to Dawlish and the South West.”
Further support for the scheme came from Cllr Phil Bullivant, who said: “The vast majority of people are in favour of the work. This delivers for the railway and for Dawlish and improves the current situation,” while Cllr Alistair Dewhirst added: “This will be a massive improvement for the amenity in Dawlish and we need to think about ensuring that the train doesn’t just stop at Dawlish and can carry on down the line and beyond. This is vital for the south west economy and a pragmatic solution to a very difficult problem.”
But Cllr Janet Bradford said: “This is not the right application and alternatives that are less harmful can be used. It is turning an historic Devon landmark into a concrete corridor. This application is not acceptable.”
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And Cllr Martin Wrigley added: “There is no doubt that the Dawlish sea wall needs substantial reinforcement and the railway line is essential to Dawlish and the south west. The question is whether this application is the right one. The construction is irreversible and so we should take time to make sure they are the very best that could do. The design may protect the railway but doesn’t protect the town or the historic Brunel heritage.”
But councillors voted by 15 votes to one, with two abstentions, to approve the application, followed by voting by 15 votes to three abstentions for the listed building consent, in line with the officer recommendation.
That had added: ““There are considerable public benefits that would result from the development. A key economic benefit would be the continued operation of this stretch of the railway line that serves the south west of Devon and Cornwall. At the request of Dawlish Town Council £6 million would be spent on providing an accessible lift bridge
“The scale and extent of the proposed development would harm the historic and architectural character of this grade II listed building. But the judgement on whether the public benefits outweigh the harm to designated heritage assets is a matter for the decision maker. It is officer’s opinion that in this case it does, particularly as the benefits are far greater than district level.”
Network Rail say that the new structure will provide greater protection from rising sea levels and extreme weather for generations to come, and help improve the long-term resilience of the line which links Devon and Cornwall to the rest of the UK.