U-turn over plans to shut ticket offices at East Devon and Exeter train stations

Politicians across party lines have welcomed a U-turn on proposals to close train ticket offices across East Devon and in Exeter.

The Government has asked operators to withdraw plans to shut 974 of the facilities around the country – including at Exmouth, Honiton, Feniton, Axminister and Exeter St David’s railway stations.

A public consultation on the bid attracted 750,000 responses – with almost all comments being objections, according to the organisations managing the survey.

East Devon MP Simon Jupp said: “Under plans put forward by South Western Railway and Great Western Railway, ticket offices in Exmouth, Honiton, Exeter St David’s, Feniton, and Axminister were set to be closed with staffing cuts at some stations.

“The Transport Secretary said the proposals did not meet the high thresholds of serving passengers set by Ministers, and asked train operators to withdraw their proposals.

“As a regular passenger from Honiton, I made my views clear about the plans for our local ticket offices to South Western Railway and Great Western Railway as East Devon’s MP and Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Transport Secretary.
“I urged residents to have their say in the public consultation and took local concerns about plans for our stations directly to the Transport Secretary.”

Conservative leader of Devon County Council, John Hart, said his authority voted against the closures.

Lib Dem Tiverton and Honiton MP Richard Foord said he had raised the issue multiple times in parliament.

Transport secretary Mark Harper said the Government had asked train operators to withdraw their proposals, given the strength of feeling.

Although only around 12 per cent of train tickets are purchased at ticket offices, Devon’s more elderly and rural population tends to use ticket offices more frequently than the national average, according to DCC.

“Devon County Council voted unanimously to oppose the closures and lobby strongly for them to be retained,” Mr Hart said.

“Devon is a very rural county with a higher than average number of older people who often rely on this service.

“Our cabinet member [for transport], Andrea Davis, who chairs the Peninsula Transport board, has also been very vocal in making our views known to the rail operators and ministers. This is a sensible, commonsense decision.”

Meanwhile Mr Foord, who wrote to South Western Railway and Great Western Railway about the potential impact for his constituency, said the U-turn was a ‘big win’ for community campaigners.

“The scrapping of plans to close our local ticket offices is welcome news as we know how helpful they are to elderly and vulnerable passengers, and the huge benefit that ticket office staff offer rail users,” he said.

“The question is, why did it take the Government so long to act? The damage that these changes would have caused was visible from space.

“The public backlash showed a strength of feeling that makes it plain this decision should have been made ages ago.”

The proposals had been made by the rail industry as a way to reduce costs. Government financial support of £13.3 billion now outweighs passenger revenue of £6.5 billion as the main income source following the pandemic.

Transport Secretary Mr Harper said: “The consultation on ticket offices has now ended, with the Government making clear to the rail industry throughout the process that any resulting proposals must meet a high threshold of serving passengers.

“We have engaged with accessibility groups throughout this process and listened carefully to passengers as well as my colleagues in Parliament. The proposals that have resulted from this process do not meet the high thresholds set by Ministers, and so the Government has asked train operators to withdraw their proposals.
“We will continue our work to reform our railways with the expansion of contactless Pay As You Go ticketing, making stations more accessible through our Access for All programme and £350 million funding through our Network North plan to improve accessibility at up to 100 stations.”
Additional reporting by Local Democracy Reporter Bradley Gerrard. 

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