Heritage railway vision for Southwold to Halesworth line is rejected

Southwold Heritage Railway Trust volunteers at the site in Wenhaston

Southwold Heritage Railway Trust volunteers at the site in Wenhaston - Credit: Archant

A charity is considering its options after its hopes of creating a new heritage railway attraction to bring tourism, cultural and economic benefits was thrown out for a second time.

The Southwold Railway Trust (SRT) had reduced the scale of its proposals to try to overcome opposition to its project – particularly the worries over the potential impact on a nationally-important area of the county's countryside.

They had high hopes that this time the venture would succeed after it was recommended for approval by planners, but Suffolk Coastal district councillors refused the plans, saying they did not believe the changes had dealt with their concerns for the landscape and the effect on villagers.

Councillor Stephen Burroughes said: 'To spoil this part of Wenhaston and the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty would be a retrograde step and we would live with that for the rest of our lives.'

SRT was seeking permission to reinstate a stretch of the Halesworth-Southwold line at Wenhaston.

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It wanted to lay 450 metres of track for trains to run up and down and build a replica station, engine shed and 40-metre platform.

The venue would open 30 days a year, rather than the 168 days originally proposed.

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The trust would run its own tour bus shuttling from Southwold and, Halesworth with off-site parking at Church Farm, Wenhaston.

James Hewett, chairman of the SRT, said the organisation was 'undaunted by this expected reversal' and was 'encouraged by the general support for its larger aim', with a plan to 'vigorously pursue all options to achieve that end'.

He added: 'We were very disappointed that the district council, at its very last gasp before the election dissolves it, turned down our application yet again after a process which has lasted two years - although we were promised an eight-week decision in 2013.

'The trust will now consider how best to proceed in the light of the wishes of both our members and of our wider supporters base in Wenhaston, Suffolk, the UK and the world.

'We have ample grounds for an appeal - and not only because the committee chose to disagree with the recommendation of their own planning officer.

John Clarke, representing 98 residents who had objected, expressed serious doubts over the plans for parking and feared many people would simply turn up and park on verges and village lanes, causing danger, while there were also issues over noise, smells, pollution and disturbance.

He said: 'We believe the work will increase the risk of flooding and an area of the natural environment will be destroyed.'

Members of Suffolk Coastal's north area development management sub committee felt it was the wrong place for the project, saying Halesworth would be a better option for a major railway tourist attraction, and felt it would not bring tangible economic benefits.

Councillor Michael Gower said the project would be 'slap bang' in the middle of the AONB, which should be defended at all costs as it was vital to Suffolk's tourism offer.

'If this was a proposal for some vital piece of national infrastructure with considerable economic benefit that would outweigh the harm to the environment, but I think this scheme will bring very limited economic benefit and there is no business case,' he said.

What do you think? Write, giving your full contact details, to: Journal Postbox, 147 London Road North, Lowestoft NR32 1NB or email andrew.papworth@archant.co.uk

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