PLYMOUTH’s designation as a freeport could strengthen the case for northern rail route from Exeter to Plymouth via Okehampton and Tavistock say rail campaigners.

The creation of the freeport and the wider Plymouth and South Devon Freezone is intended to be a shot in the arm for Plymouth’s marine industries.

It offers tax breaks for specific areas where industries are clustered around Devonport dockyard, Langage and Sherford, to make it easier to import raw materials, add value to them and then export them.

The bid was backed by Plymouth-based marine sector heavyweight companies Babcock and Princess Yachts.

The freeport area extends right up to the north Devon coast, taking in West Devon.

Vice chair of campaign group OkeRail Richard Westlake, for many years a county councillor in the Okehampton area, said the freight generated by the designation would be better served by a ‘northern route’ railway via Tavistock and Okehampton.

‘The arrangement will be if the freeport starts to generate freight traffic from Plymouth then the northern route would seem the better option for freight rather than the present route, because there are some considerable inclines between Plymouth and Newton Abbot – some of the steepest inclines in the west of England – and therefore freight trains would operate more easily on that route.’

‘Going via Okehampton does make sense, you would be able to take heavier loads via Okehampton and you would not have the disruption, which is always a problem on the coastal route, due to rough seas and weather, so it does have significant advantages going that way. It is designated as a freeport now and it will be very interesting whether or not the Government now will go on to back it.’

He was speaking as Devon County Council waits to hear the Government’s verdict on its latest business case for reopening the Bere Alston to Tavistock line which would be the second piece in three sections of the jigsaw for reinstating the full Plymouth to Exeter route via Taivstock and Okehampton.

Mr Westlake added: ‘From what I gathered at the moment, they have agreed the initial study and they are doing an an evaluation. Most people are extremely optimistic that it will be given the go-ahead. I think it is vitally important that it does.’

Mr Westlake’s comments come in the light of the success of the Okehampton to Exeter line, which reopened last November after a gap of 49 years in which the town was without a regular rail service. The service has been hourly since May.

In Tavistock, campaign group TavyRail is actively campaigning to get the Bere Alston section reinstated. A trackbed is there, but the railway line itself was taken up when Tavistock Station closed in 1968.