Decision day looms for Southwold heritage railway bid

Planning chiefs have been advised to green-light a heritage railway attraction in a nationally important area of Suffolk countryside despite local opposition.

Suffolk Coastal had refused Southwold Railway Trust (SRT) permission to reinstate a stretch of the old Halesworth-Southwold line at Wenhaston in 2012.

The charity then bought the land and resubmitted its application – now recommended by planning officers for approval at tomorrow’s development control meeting.

Wenhaston with Mells Hamlet Parish Council believes the scheme will harm the landscape and residential amenity of the area, that it poses a flood risk and will cause traffic problems. Its objection is one of 98 received with 51 letters of support.

Planners must now weigh the cultural and economic benefits of the project against its suitability in a flood prone area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB).

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SRT wants to lay 450 metres of track and build a replica station, engine shed and 40m platform.

It believes the revised plan – taking up 2.14 acres of the original 14-acre site – will celebrate the Blyth Valley and improve natural habitats through responsible management.

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The venue would open 30 days a year, rather than the originally proposed 168 days. Parking will also be restricted to staff and for disabled access, with SRT’s own tour bus shuttling visitors from Southwold, Halesworth and off-site parking at Church Farm, Wenhaston.

The Trust’s Simon Pitcher said: “Over the last two years, we have worked to ensure we addressed the issues raised. This has resulted in the application being recommended for approval.

“There has been a lot said in recent political debate about supporting tourism – that is exactly what we feel this will do. We think it is good for the economy of the area without being highly intensive in activity.

“We still want to be good neighbours and, if given planning permission, are willing to set up a discussion group to ensure we behave in a responsible manner.”

But no amount of scaling down will quell the concerns of objectors. Parish councillor, Ann Edwards said: “As far as we are concerned, there can be no mitigation against the site being in an AONB or on a flood plain.

“We think it will disrupt what people already come for – tranquillity and the chance to walk, cycle, horse ride and bird watch.

“They think everyone will come on a tour bus but the planning officer admits that will be unenforceable.”

Wenhaston resident, Serena Inskip said: “I don’t get the impression that concerns have been listened to. If anything, the revised application will worsen traffic.

“They say the village will benefit from more tourists, without appreciating that people already come here for other reasons.”

Planning officers recommend approval subject to a 22-point list of conditions.

They admit the proposal has been “significantly scaled back”, and that the scheme will have a discernible, if limited benefit to tourism and the local economy.

They acknowledge concerns over flooding and the impact on an AONB but deem it “not unacceptable” if activity is limited to levels proposed.

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