Public will have a say on rail plans
MEMBERS of the public will have a vital say whether a £6.5 million project to revive a historic steam railway in north Suffolk stays on track.Earlier this year Southwold Railway Society announced plans to revive the narrow gauge rail link from Southwold to Halesworth that was in operation from 1879 to 1929.
MEMBERS of the public will have a vital say whether a £6.5 million project to revive a historic steam railway in north Suffolk stays on track.
Earlier this year Southwold Railway Society announced plans to revive the narrow gauge rail link from Southwold to Halesworth that was in operation from 1879 to 1929.
Society members said they were confident that funding could be achieved but were aware that plans to reinstate a railway through the Blyth Valley would not meet with universal approval.
The stretch of land between Halesworth and Southwold is one of the most environmentally sensitive areas in East Anglia and is home to a wide variety of wildlife.
As reported earlier in the EADT, there is a huge difference of public opinion about the merits of the proposed new railway line.
John Bennett, chairman of the Southwold Railway Society, said there had been 116 letters received since the plans were made public and 96 were in favour of the scheme going ahead.
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Members of Halesworth Town Council have also given their support to the project after hearing a presentation from the railway society last week.
There is, however, a strong campaign opposed to the building of the railway line as many people fear it will have a devastating impact on the local environment.
A group of 20 Southwold residents have sent 1,500 leaflets to homes in the area outlining what they see is a "real threat" posed by the revival of the rail link.
The leaflet accuses the railway society of "dismissing" the full environmental impact that new railway will have.
"We Southwold residents are lucky to share an exceptional area with the rarest wildlife _ including bitterns, marsh harriers, slow worms, otters and water voles.
"What wildlife really needs to thrive is to be left alone," says the leaflet.
Geoffrey Munn, one of the organisers behind the leaflet, hopes local residents will join in the groundswell of public opinion against the new railway.
"Although the brochure published by the Southwold Railway Society might at first appear to describe a nostalgic revival it certainly does not.
"In truth what is proposed is a new development, on a new track with entirely new aims," he said.
Mr Munn is afraid that the character of the Blyth Valley would be lost if the plans ever got the go-ahead.
"The building of a railway with stations, an oil depot with centrifuge and filters sump oil at Blythburgh, water towers, banks, cutaways and fencing would completely change the landscape of the Blyth Valley and must never be allowed," he said.
Supporters of the society's plans believe that a heritage steam railway and conservation should not be seen as on opposite sides of the argument.
"Members of the Southwold Railway Society certainly think that narrow gauge steam locomotives and trains are objects of great beauty and a pleasure in the landscape.
"But equally we value the latter, also enjoying the countryside and wildlife through which trains would travel, regarding the two as complementary," said Mr Bennett.
Environmentally sensitive areas that opponents of the scheme say are at risk include the Hen Reedbeds next to Wolsey Creek, the marshes north of Mights Bridge, Toby's Walks and the setting of Blythburgh Church.
Suffolk Wildlife Trust is concerned about the impact the line would have on the Hen Reedbeds and has written to the railway society.
Southwold Town Council members are due to discuss the proposals next week.
It is likely that members of the Southwold Railway Society will wait to the New Year when their consultation booklet has been out for six months before making a decision whether to proceed with a planning application.
"We think that this project would be of real benefit to this east Suffolk coastal area.
"If there is public support for the project then it can probably be achieved. If there is not then we would not want to pursue it," said Mr Bennett.
n Do you think the Southwold Railway should be revived? Email us at email@example.com, but include your postal address, write to Letters to the Editor, EADT, 30 Lower Brook St, Ipswich, Suffolk, IP4 1AN, or fax a letter on 01473 324871.