The MP for North Cornwall has defended his record after criticism from the chair of Connect Bude.
Richard Wolfenden-Brown had written a letter to Scott Mann in light of a letter sent to the annual general meeting of Connect Bude where the MP detailed the plans and actions taken with the view to improving transport connectivity in the North Cornwall area.
In the original letter sent to the Connect Bude AGM, the MP had detailed various initiatives such as the recent announcement of support to turn the Camelford Bypass into reality.
He had said to Connect Bude members that he has “huge support for public transport, but must also ensure that drivers in these remote parts of North Cornwall have safe roads to drive on” adding that £5-million of pothole repair funding was allocated to Cornwall.
On rail transport in North Cornwall, Mr Mann said that he was focused on returning a mainline service link from Bodmin Parkway to Bodmin General, as well as helping deliver the reconnected line to Okehampton.
Mr Mann concluded: “I see all these combined infrastructure projects across North Cornwall as part of the same overall programme to improve transport in my constituency. Rather than waiting many years for rail connections, better bus services can make a difference in the short to medium term.
“This is something which we have successfully delivered in Bude where the rail service no longer physically exists like it does in Bodmin. My very best wishes to all the members, and the committee of Connect Bude.”
In response, the chair of Connect Bude issued an open letter to the MP, saying: “Thanks for taking the time to write to us in advance of the AGM of Connect Bude. Since you attended the initial public meeting in Oct 2016 that led to the creation of Connect Bude, we have received an annual letter of support from you and understood that you supported our aims. Your recent letter, however, which covers a range of transport topics across North Cornwall, most of which are irrelevant to Connect Bude members, is extremely discouraging and seems to demonstrate a shift in your view about the viability of returning rail to Bude.
“Given that over recent years the government has actively encouraged us to believe that you want to level up, reverse Beeching and reconnect disconnected communities, it is deeply disappointing that you now seem to expect the 40,000+ people in the greater Bude and Holsworthy area to make do with a bus to Okehampton. You are mistaken if you think that you have successfully delivered a better bus service in Bude.
“The service and timetable is poor by any standard and has caused immense problems for those trying to get to Exeter via public transport for work, for college, for health appointments, for leisure, for culture and for onward travel. The bus service is so poor in fact and under subscribed that Stagecoach have withdrawn from commercially operating it.
“We don’t want to ‘wait years’ for a railway connection and now that HS2 is going to be a bit cheaper there should be funds to support rail projects across the country, including Bude. By all means fix the potholes and extend the line to Bodmin but this forgotten part of Cornwall and your constituency urgently needs your support and action.
“The transformational impact that rail can have is clearly demonstrated at Okehampton where passenger use is 250 per cent above the predicted usage. The same would be true in Bude and would prompt a modal shift from private to public transport, avoiding gridlock in the summer and contributing hugely to the targets related to net zero, as supported by Bude Climate Partnership and the government.
“We would welcome an opportunity to have a public debate on transport in Bude with you and the other prospective parliamentary candidates in due course. We would also like to set you a challenge. Let’s have a race to your office in London by public transport. You can set off from Bodmin and we will set off from Bude. I wonder who will get there first. Challenge accepted? We look forward to hearing from you and to making some rapid progress.”
In a letter sent in response to this, addressed to Connect Bude members, Scott Mann, MP for North Cornwall said: “I am very disappointed in Richard Wolfenden-Brown’s response to my AGM letter, and I am aware from supportive emails that I have received since the Connect Bude AGM that his views do not reflect those of other members.
“Unfortunately, it seems he has taken my letter to the AGM the wrong way. As MP for one of the largest geographical constituency areas in the country, it is important to discuss transport in the scope of the whole of North Cornwall, as the system is interconnected.
“I do not consider Bude to be an annex of North Cornwall, I consider it to be an integral part, and therefore when we are discussing transport infrastructure for the whole of North Cornwall with Ministers and other stakeholders, we work very hard to ensure that Bude is included within scope of North Cornwall’s complete infrastructure.
“He states that transport infrastructure in other parts of North Cornwall is “irrelevant” to Connect Bude members but this is inaccurate. I know from data that people in Bude use services in other parts of the North Cornwall constituency, thus, giving an overview of the transport network across the wider constituency to Connect Bude members should be considered very relevant.
“I was clear in my letter “that I would like to offer a comprehensive view of where I feel we are with transport across North Cornwall”. Connect Bude is an organisation based in Bude, so the town is quite rightly the focus of their work, but the transport network is, pardon the pun, ‘connected’. The long-term vision of reconnecting rail services should not be forgotten, but in the interim, it is important to highlight what other work I am doing in relation to the constituency.
“Connecting Bude to the rest of the UK’s railway network requires thinking on a larger scale than just the local area. For example, Okehampton was a key part of restoring the rail line. I backed that project from day one, and I was very pleased to be part of the Conservative Government that delivered on it.
“It is also disappointing that Richard appears to have allowed his views to become politicised. I have a realistic vision of what is achievable for Bude and a potential reconnection with the mainline rail. This is why I suggested, supported, and endorsed Connect Bude’s submission to GWR for a feasibility study for the rebuilding of the line.
“Some opposition figures have suggested that the line could be rebuilt easily, and this is a cruel hoax that is being floated ahead of a General Election. The cost implications for buying back the land that was used for the Bude line would be extremely expensive and I look forward to seeing a fully costed and verified case soon from them.
“In terms of HS2 and the financial ‘dividend’ from the cancellation of the Northern Phase of the project, money has already been redirected to North Cornwall for the Camelford Bypass. I worked hard in Westminster to ensure were included, and this was not because Camelford is more important, it is simply because the bypass plans are very advanced and met the criteria for the scheme.
“The truth is Bude is more connected now than it was when I became MP in 2015.
“There is always more to do but it’s a lengthy process to get a rail line. The Lib Dems can promise what they like, but in the years they had an MP here they did nothing. The public understands this and accepts that progress is being made, they also have long memories and remember tuition fees, and other promises made and broken when elected.”