Shortly before Christmas, the railway met with Bert Biscoe, Cornwall Council Portfolio Holder for Transport, for an update on the TRAC project. At the meeting, the railway was informed of the probability that the project would not go ahead, and this was confirmed officially in a press release a few days later.
This was not completely unexpected as doubt as to the future of the project had already been cast by Cornwall Council themselves earlier in the year, but no further information was forthcoming, leading to uncertainty and anxiety on the part of many landowners:
‘DEFRA, as a principal funder of the TRAC project, have expressed concerns about the lack of progress in delivering the TRAC project. They have given Cornwall Council an ultimatum for the conclusion of land negotiations and requested a report on the current position, which was submitted to them at the end of March 2012.
Until DEFRA confirm their decision regarding the project it is not possible to determine the exact impact on Cornwall Council. The worst case scenario is that investment made to date at Bude, Launceston and Caradon Hill which amount to £550,000 could be liable to clawback should DEFRA decide not to continue to fund any of the project, although from discussions with DEFRA this is thought to be unlikely.’ (Cabinet Supplementary Pack 1, 9th May 2012)
Subsequent to this, the main funders, DEFRA, wrote to Cornwall Council giving them the deadline of 15th October 2012 to provide a written acceptance of the conditions for project delivery. This was copied to the railway as a partner in the scheme, and as the railway’s signature was also required. The letter also stated that ‘If DEFRA have not received a written reply by this date, it will be taken to signify the Cornwall Council and its delivery partners do not want to take up RDPE funding for the TRAC project.’
The railway offered to meet with Cornwall Council, but this was not taken up, and no signature was requested. The railway wrote to DEFRA to inform them of this, and also to make clear that the railway itself did not wish to turn down the funding and still supported fully the original project as agreed.
In a Radio Cornwall interview on 21st December with Bert Biscoe and local Cornwall Councillor Alex Folkes, it was made clear that the money spent to date at Launceston and Bude has been clawed back by DEFRA, effectively ending the project. At Launceston however, Cornwall Council intend to construct a short length of off- road trail of about one third of a mile, ending at the long-established scrapyard in Underlane. This will of course still need planning permission.
The railway has now received a formal letter from Cornwall Council’s legal advisors in Leeds stating that no further action will be taken with regard to the project.
Alex Folkes has been a strong supporter of the original scheme, and his disappointment in the outcome is clear – he has branded Cornwall Council ‘incompetent’ in his blog where he has also said:
‘The original project plan was a partnership between the council and Launceston Steam Railway. But the council lost the support of the railway and of many local residents when they failed to guarantee to keep the way clear for a possible future railway extension. Cornwall Council didn’t listen to local people and failed to understand what was important to them.’
Cornwall Council still retains the ambition to link the Camel and Tarka trails (subject to the availability of funding), for which the Launceston project should have been the flagship, but without compromising the railway’s future, and the railway has expressed its willingness to meet with senior officers to discuss ways in which this might be achieved.
The railway is most grateful to all those who have expressed their support to prevent Cornwall Council from blocking off any future extension to Launceston’s major and nationally known tourist attraction.