Full stream ahead for new Somerset railway station as 200 new homes and access road approved

Artist's impression of new Wellington railway station
Artist's impression of new Wellington railway station -Credit:Network Rail

It's full steam ahead to deliver Somerset's newest railway station after plans for the access road, 200 homes and new commercial units were approved. Somerset Council has been working with Network Rail to restore rail services to Wellington, whose previous mainline station closed in the mid-1960s as part of the infamous Beeching cuts.

Funding to deliver the new railway station was provisionally secured in late-2023 following the cancellation of the High Speed 2 rail link between Birmingham and Manchester, with the Department for Transport (DfT) pledging to provide the funding subject to a final business case. To deliver the access road to the new station site, West of England Developments (Taunton) Ltd. put forward plans for a new development of up to 200 homes and commercial space off Nynehead Road, north of the town's Lidl supermarket.

Somerset Council's planning committee west (which handles major applications in the former Somerset West and Taunton area) approved these outline plans in Taunton on Wednesday afternoon (May 1) - meaning work to deliver the new access can begin very soon. Here's everything you need to know about the new development, the railway station, and what happens next:

How did we get to this point?

Wellington's original railway station was located west of the B3187 Station Road, near what is now the KDC One Swallowfield factory. Since the station closed in October 1964, residents wishing to travel by train have had to commute to either Taunton (for services to London or Bristol) or Tiverton Parkway over the border in Devon (for services to Exeter, Plymouth and Cornwall.

Reopening the station on or near its original site was deemed impossible without forcibly relocating some of the town's major employers, including KDC Swallowfield, Relyon and Pritex. Taunton Deane Borough Council set aside land off Nynehead Road for employment use as part of its Core Strategy, some of which will end up being occupied by the new station.

Somerset West and Taunton Council and Mid Devon District Council jointly secured £5m from the government in October 2021, which was used to carry out initial studies and assemble a business case to restore rail services to both Wellington and Cullompton. The partial cancellation of HS2 in October 2023 led to the DfT announcing that Wellington's new station would be "funded to delivery", pending approval of the final business case.

The new station is expected to cost £15m and will be open by June 2026 - nine months later than the government had hoped when the HS2 announcement was made.

How many trains will call at the new station?

A Great Western Railway (GWR) Hitachi train
Wellington Station in its heyday

The station will be served solely by Great Western Railway (GWR) services, with CrossCounty indicating in late-March that its trains would not be calling there. David Northey, a retired strategic planner with Network Rail, indicated at an event in May 2023 that the station would initially be served by trains every two hours as part of the GWR service between Exeter St. David's and Cardiff Central.

However, Network Rail officer Karen Williams indicated on Wednesday (May 1) that the station would enjoy hourly trains in each direction from the outset. She told the committee: "The consent of this scheme will trigger the provision of the spine road and the transfer of land for the car park.

"The station will be served by one train per hour each way, with an extension of all services between Cardiff Central and Exeter St. David's." Councillor Derek Perry (who represents the Rowbarton and Staplegrove areas of northern Taunton) raised concerns as to whether there was enough capacity to further increase services once the new station had bedded in.

David Northey, retired strategic planner with Network Rail, speaking at Wellington Baptist Church
A Great Western Railway (GWR) Hitachi train -Credit:Greg Martin/ Cornwall Live

He said: "My concern is the lack of loop lines, so when people clamour for more than hourly services, the operator will say: 'it would be lovely, but they would get in the way of the fast trains'." GWR regional growth manager David Whiteway said that Somerset was one of the few parts of the UK where rail use had increased since the coronavirus pandemic, which would increase the new station's viability.

He also referenced the unexpected success of the Dartmoor line between Exeter and Okehampton, which reopened in November 2021 and will soon welcome an additional station through the government's levelling up fund. He said: "The station itself is on track to be completed by 2026, in line with the government's Network North programme. Somerset needs more rail stations, and this is a very real and viable option."

Why do we need these new homes?

Revised plans for 200 homes, commercial space and access to new Wellington railway station on Nynehead Road in Wellington
David Northey, retired strategic planner with Network Rail, speaking at Wellington Baptist Church -Credit:Taunton Deane Liberal Democrats

The delivery of the new station essentially comes in two parts: the station itself and its car park, and the access road connecting the station site to Nynehead Road and the wider road network. Network Rail is spearheading the actual construction and delivery of the railway station, along with its car park near the southern platform.

These proposals are currently being designed, with a planning application expected to be submitted in the coming months. The access road will be delivered through a new housing development, with West of England Developments (Taunton) Ltd. to extend the existing access near the Lidl store and build up to 200 new homes (revised down from 220 in the original plans) alongside it - none of which will be affordable.

A decision on this development has been repeatedly delayed due to the ongoing phosphates crisis, with the developer now agreeing to spend £1m on phosphate credits, ensuring that there is no net increase in phosphate levels within the protected Somerset Levels and Moors catchment area. The developer also been aided in this regard by a new deal between Somerset Council and Wiveliscombe-based firm WCI, allowing developers to offset new homes by paying for upgrades to existing septic tanks within the River Tone catchment.

The access road to the Lidl store in Wellington will be extended to reach the new railway station
The access road to the Lidl store in Wellington will be extended to reach the new railway station

To ensure the road can be delivered quickly, and therefore work on the actual station can begin, Somerset Council voted in late-January to potentially use up to £4.5m from other housing developments to pay for the road.

If this approach is taken, this funding - secured via the community infrastructure levy (CIL) - would be repaid to the council by the developer as the new homes are delivered, meaning the money could then be used for other projects such as new schools or other roads.

What other facilities will this development provide?

Footpath leading from the B3187 Milverton Road to the proposed Wellington railway station
The access road to the Lidl store in Wellington will be extended to reach the new railway station -Credit:Daniel Mumby

In addition to the new homes, the development will provide a significant amount of commercial space near the railway station itself along with contributions to local infrastructure. Up to £305,000 will be provided to create a 'station square' area of public open space near the southern platform, which will serve to welcome passengers alighting at Wellington and allow for onward travel by bus, taxis or bicycle.

Wellington Town Council will be responsible for managing this site, which will include a unique piece of public art - the reclaimed top of the Wellington Monument, following the recent restoration of the iconic obelisk by the National Trust. Town clerk Dave Farrow said: "The station is an essential development for the town as it continues to grow. It will open up new employment and education opportunities - it will open the town up to Taunton, Exeter, Tiverton and Bristol.

"The station square will serve as a focal point for the station and serve as an active travel hub for onward journeys. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and therefore we recognise there has to be some flexibility with regard to the usual developer contributions."

Wellington Monument
Footpath leading from the B3187 Milverton Road to the proposed Wellington railway station -Credit:Daniel Mumby

Due to viability issues surrounding the site (including the cost of the new access road and phosphate mitigation), the developer's contributions to some local amenities are lower than would normally be deemed acceptable. The development will still provide £573,000 towards local schools (such as the local Isambard Kingdom Brunel Primary School), along with £89,336 for expanding existing doctors' surgeries.

Councillor Habib Farbahi (whose Comeytrowe and Trull division includes the huge Orchard Grove housing development) suggested: "For future developments [in Wellington], we should have land allocated for a medical hub, including doctors, dentists and a pharmacy." On top of this, nearly £574,000 will be provided for walking and cycling connections to and from the station, providing a dedicated cycle lane along the spine road and a secondary link due south between the car park and the B3187 Taunton Road, linking up with existing lanes near the Longforth Farm estate.

A further £50,000 will be provided to help deliver the Grand Western Greenway, which will run to the north of the railway station and eventually provide a safe off-road cycle route between Wellington and Taunton, avoiding the busy A38.

A substantial amount of green space is also included within the plans, with 11 acres of new woodland to be planted north of the railway line and new public open space to the west, forming a buffer with Longforth Farm and providing a safe route for nearby bat populations.

How have local councillors reacted?

Councillor Gwilym Wren (Independent, Upper Tone)
Wellington Monument -Credit:National Trust

Jeremy Toye, who sits on Nynehead Parish Council, told the committee on Wednesday (May 1) that the village was in favour of the new station but had concerns over the access road's design. It is currently unclear whether the existing junction off Nynehead Road will remain in its current state or whether it will be redesigned, making the access road the main road leading off the Cades roundabout (with Nynehead Road being accessed via a T-junction).

This latter option would require negotiations with Lidl over the use of land in their ownership to deliver the changes, departing from the plans when its new store was approved back in January 2022. Mr Toye said: "If you add up the 200 houses, the employment site, the railway station, parking and everything else, then one access point seems a little short - and the junction's existing position is dangerous."

"To my pleasure, there is an idea of going back to the original plans to have a T-junction which makes the main road go into the development. Nynehead Road is already narrow and it floods - it is not a main road." Councillor Gwilym Wren (whose Upper Tone division borders Wellington) concurred: "I'm disturbed that the change in road layout is not a done deal.

Councillor Caroline Ellis (Liberal Democrat, Bishop's Hull and Taunton West)
Councillor Gwilym Wren (Independent, Upper Tone) -Credit:Somerset West and Taunton Council

"Nynehead Road carries a significant amount of traffic from the M5 up to Exmoor - I hope the council and Lidl can sort this out." Numerous other councillors openly expressed their support for the plans, arguing that any issues or shortcomings were acceptable to guarantee the station's delivery.

Councillor Andy Sully (Lydeard) said: "I've been campaigning for this since 2013. This is an enabling application to deliver the infrastructure.

"There is only so much cake to go around, and if we don't grant permission, no-one will get any cake." Councillor Caroline Ellis (Bishop's Hull and Taunton West) added: "There is so much good about this - we could talk for hours about bats and the access, but at the end of the day we have to look at the overwhelming benefits of the scheme as a whole."

·After around 90 minutes' debate, the committee voted to approve the plans by a significant margin.

What happens next?

The access road to the Lidl store in Wellington will be extended to reach the new railway station
Councillor Caroline Ellis (Liberal Democrat, Bishop's Hull and Taunton West) -Credit:Somerset West and Taunton Council

Once legal agreements between the council and the developer have been signed, work on the access road could begin within a matter of months. The developer is expected to submit a reserved matters application, which covers the detailed design and layout of the homes and commercial space, before the end of the year.

Network Rail's plans for the station and car park are expected to come forward at the same time - with both applications expected to come before the committee for approval. The new station is expected to be finished and open for passengers in June 2026.