The start of a new year is a time filled with possibilities, as we reflect back over what has passed and look ahead to new beginnings. 

2023 started with the news that the Torridge District Council bid to the Government’s Levelling Up Fund, which I had sponsored, had been successful in bringing £15.6-million of direct investment in Torridge. 

This will fund the creation of an Appledore Clean Maritime Innovation Centre on a site adjacent to the revived Appledore Shipyard, now building ships again for the Royal Navy, placing our area at the heart of national maritime research and development.

Throughout the year, the future of Dartmoor has regularly come up when I have been out and about in West Devon. 

In January, alongside the National Park Authority and others, we worked to ensure the continuation of Dartmoor’s unique wild camping tradition, which was secured when the Park Authority won its appeal in July. 

At the same time, my campaign to keep open the Princetown Visitor Centre secured an additional grant of £440,000 of much needed extra resource that has meant the Centre will not close.  

A key issue there was that of the management of Dartmoor’s protected landscape. In March, after much effort by me and others to reset the poor relationships between Natural England and Dartmoor’s farming communities, it suddenly announced, without consultation, that it would require dramatic reductions in grazing, for both livestock and the famous Dartmoor ponies. 

As a result, I secured and led a debate in Parliament in April. In this debate, I and others argued for an independent process to inquire into the proper balancing of public interests on Dartmoor. I was pleased the minister conceded the point and ordered an independent review. 

In March, after much discussion with education ministers, to whom I had sent photographs of my recent visit to Tavistock College, we also heard the good news that the College is to be rebuilt as part of the National Schools rebuilding programme. 

In the Chancellor’s Spring Budget, Torridge district was chosen as one of just twenty areas across the country to share in an initial £400-million of Government money as part of the Levelling Up Partnerships programme. 

Since then, I have been working with Torridge District Council, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) and local businesses, to identify barriers to growth in the local economy and establish our priorities for local regeneration. 

I was delighted that, in early October, the Prime Minister announced that the Government has approved the reopening of the Tavistock to Plymouth Railway line with a new station to be built in Tavistock. This has been a long-held goal for which we have fought for many years. My thanks to all those who have helped in this fight. 

The results of this wonderful news together with the reopening of the Dartmoor Line and the construction of a new Railway station and transport hub at Okehampton as a result of our winning Levelling Up bid there, will be to revolutionise transport communications in and for West Devon and the benefits to our communities will be huge. 

My father used to recall travelling to school by train to Tavistock during the war. Trains will now run again to our town for the first time since 1968!

Across the summer and into the autumn, I held many village surgeries to hear from constituents across Torridge and West Devon. A range of issues, from broadband to the condition of our road network, have been raised with me and I have continued working to improve them. Indeed, I have responded to more than 11,000 emails since the beginning of this year! The condition of our roads is an issue that stands out among many, which is why I have launched a petition, to be presented to Parliament, calling for the Government to reallocate funds to Devon County Council to facilitate a comprehensive scheme of road improvements, including to improve the condition of unclassified or classified unnumbered roads. If you have an opportunity, please add your signature. 

Finally, as we came to the end of the year, the Dartmoor Inquiry published its report. 

The report makes numerous important recommendations. On the day of publication, I met the Secretary of State to begin to consider how matters should be taken forward. 

The Dartmoor MPs are committed to ensuring the recommendations are implemented as soon as possible and we will be holding a follow-up event in the New Year to discuss them. I have invited the Secretary of State to that event. Further details will be published as soon as they have been arranged.

When I put pen to paper to write last year’s Christmas column, I predicted that there would be difficult days ahead of us but that together, we would overcome them, as we have. I hope that you will join me in looking forward to the New Year with a sense of optimism. 

While it seems we are fated to live in unique and interesting times with the aftermath of the pandemic and Putin’s war of aggression in Ukraine still with us, I know our communities will once again face them with the courage and resilience that characterise them. 

I am also deeply grateful to all those who will not cease their vigilance and care for all of us during this Christmas period, to those who will continue to provide vital public services and those who will give up their time to look after the lonely and the vulnerable. 

I hope that 2023 will bring you great happiness. My very best wishes to you and your families for a Happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year.