As we emerge from lockdown, attention is focusing on building back better and greener for a more prosperous future. Almost right on cue I am absolutely delighted that one of my key commitments as the MP, which was to secure the upgrade of Taunton Rail station, is virtually complete. The state-of-the-art new ticket office is already operating (I used it this week as I headed to Westminster) and the car park and final road junction will be finished soon. It has been a tremendous partnership between stakeholders including GWR, Network Rail and of course was started by the previous Council when, early in my days as the MP, an initial Government fund of £4.6m was secured. With passenger travel due to double through the station within 10 years this development is vital for the local community and with improved cycle links and parking facilities will be a major boost to getting people out of their cars and onto trains which are one of the greener forms of transport Government is committed to in the drive to transition to net zero and hit our climate change targets. The updated train schedule now running from Taunton is a definite bonus too.
The development is a sensitive combination of the modern integrated with the carefully restored listed buildings initially designed in the Victorian era by Brunel. The final icing on the cake will be incorporating some artistic ideas being fed in by ArtsTaunton (whom I have worked closed with) as well as landscaping to fit in with the Garden Town ethos and finally links will open to the adjacent Firepool site.
Mindful of how important culture, arts & heritage are it’s great news that almost £1m of additional funding has been secured from the Culture Recovery Fund for organisations locally including Hestercombe Gardens, West Somerset Railway and Taunton Theatre Association; this comes on top of the £1.5million awarded last autumn. It protects jobs especially heritage skills, enables maintenance, construction and means these enterprises can re-open and recover. Once again, I was pleased to play my part in securing these funds which together with the station upgrade will contribute to us building back stronger, greener, and more connected.