Rail line stance branded

By David GreenA CONSERVATION group was accused last night of adopting a "ridiculous" stance over a plan to revive an old rail link between two towns.

By David Green

A CONSERVATION group was accused last night of adopting a "ridiculous" stance over a plan to revive an old rail link between two towns.

The accusation came after Suffolk Wildlife Trust indicated a proposed change in the route of the line was unlikely to lead to a shift in its attitude to the £6.5million project for a narrow gauge "heritage" railway from Halesworth to Southwold.

The original plan by the Southwold Railway Society showed the route slicing through part of the wildlife-rich Hen Reedbed, created only two years ago at a cost of £650,000 and now providing habitat for bitterns, marsh harriers and other uncommon species.

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But at the suggestion of Southwold county councillor, John Goldsmith, a new proposal has been published showing the rail line following a route slightly further south – on the extreme edge of the reedbed.

Although the line would occupy a longer stretch of the habitat, it would pass through an area of allegedly lower value to wildlife.

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But Julian Roughton, director of the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, said although the new proposal would be fully examined, it was in the business of nature conservation.

"Our position is that we would not voluntarily sacrifice any area of the Hen Reedbed because our priority is to manage for conservation," he added.

"We would have to be assured that any rail line development would leave the reedbed and its conservation value intact."

The trust has received many calls from opponents of the rail link, who believe the impact on wildlife habitat and the relative tranquillity of the area would be unacceptable.

Mr Goldsmith, who serves as a town, district and county councillor and lives on the site of the old Southwold Railway Station, said he was disappointed by the trust's response.

"It is ridiculous that people cannot compromise. It doesn't look as if they are willing to give an inch," he added.

Mr Goldsmith, who was among the county councillors who voted in favour of giving the trust money to create the Hen Reedbed, said disturbance from the rail line on the edge of the land would be minimal.

"The main road from the A12 to Southwold ran right through the reedbed and, compared with the road, the railway would cause very little disturbance indeed," he pointed out.

Mr Goldsmith said he would listen to the views of residents before finally making up his mind on the project, but believed much of the opposition was currently coming from people who were new to the area and knew little about its geography or history.

"They don't realise that it was the old railway that helped Southwold become what it is today," he added.

John Bennett, chairman of the Southwold Railway Society, said he hoped further discussions could take place with the trust at some later stage – should the project go any further.

"Nothing is cast in tablets of stone," added Mr Bennett, who said the route of the proposed line was up for discussion.

The old line between Halesworth and Southwold followed the south side of the estuary after reaching Blythburgh, arriving at the seaside town via Walberswick.

However, the proposed route has so far avoided the Walberswick side of the estuary because of the opposition from councils last year to a plan for a short heritage rail line from Walberswick across Southwold Common to the edge of the town centre.

Mr Bennett said about 75% of the responses received by the society so far had been in favour of reviving the Halesworth to Southwold rail link.

Meanwhile, there is still time to vote in the East Anglian Daily Times ballot on the proposal by Southwold Railway Society to link Halesworth and Southwold with the 8.5-mile narrow gauge line.

Completed EADT ballot papers can be handed in at: Purdys Newsagents, High Street, Southwold; Reydon Post Office; Patricks Newsagents, Market Place, Halesworth; or EADT editorial office, 25 Market Place, Halesworth.

Alternatively, completed ballot papers can be sent to Southwold Railway Ballot, EADT Newsdesk, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN.

Photocopies of the EADT's voting forms will be accepted, as long as they are individually signed.

The results of the survey will be passed on to Southwold Railway Society, Southwold Town Council and Halesworth Town Council.


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