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Eden founder Smit calls for better South West infrastructure

Words: Roger Milne
Eden Project founder Sir Tim Smit

Eden Project founder Sir Tim Smit has called for politicians to set aside their “inertia” and wake up to the possibilities of a thriving South West.

Speaking to the BBC about the reopening of the Dawlish railway line, the entrepreneur said its collapse had highlighted to urgent need for infrastructure improvements in the south west.
The coast-hugging rail line, partially washed away by winter storms, was shut for two months, leaving the South West largely inaccessible by rail. Local Chambers of Commerce have estimated that this cost the regional economy £20 million a day.
"One of the problems I think we face down here is a sort of political inertia,” Smit told the BBC. “Because we don't have, if you like, the levers of power to make us seem important enough, we get viewed by the capital as if it's still at the old days of the Cornish Riviera, with a few nice things to do for people who've got wealth to come down and have holidays.”
He went on to describe the South West as “thriving” and a “hub of the creative industries”.
The Dawlish line before being washed away
Local councillors have expressed similar sentiments, with Torbay Mayor Gordon Oliver, saying 75 per cent of tourism businesses in Devon and Cornwall had lost business because of the rail closure.
The Dawlish line is the sole railway link between Cornwall, much of Devon and the rest of the UK. Parts of the track were swept away on 5 February when high seas breached the sea wall.
It has taken 300 contractors two months to repair the line, at a cost of £35m. Network Rail is considering five options as a back-up, should the Dawlish line go down again:
- Reinstate the Okehampton line between Plymouth and Exeter, which closed in 1967. This will cost £500m to £700m
- Create a new line connecting existing freight lines from Alphington (near Exeter) and Heathfield (near Newton Abbot)
- Three options between Newton Abbot and Exeter via Teignmouth.