Rail revival plan not sidetracked
By David LennardSOUTHWOLD Railway Society members are refusing to be sidetracked in their effort to revive the historic rail link to Halesworth, despite a huge protest against the proposal.
By David Lennard
SOUTHWOLD Railway Society members are refusing to be sidetracked in their effort to revive the historic rail link to Halesworth, despite a huge protest against the proposal.
More than 200 people protested outside Southwold Town Hall on Tuesday at the plan to create a £6.5million heritage steam railway through the Blyth Valley between the two towns.
They believe it would be an “environmental disaster” if the railway got the go-ahead and would also create traffic problems as a level crossing would be needed on the only road into Southwold at Mights Bridge.
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Southwold Town Council later overwhelmingly decided not to support the railway society's proposal, with many of the councillors saying they had been influenced by the tide of public opinion.
Town mayor Susan Allen said the council had received 335 letters about the plan, with only eight being in favour of the proposal.
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A number of villagers living in Blythburgh, Wenhaston and Reydon are also against the proposal as they fear it will blight their communities.
Railway society chairman and Southwold architect, John Bennett, said yesterday: “I was not at all surprised to see the size of the demonstration against our plans as a number of people have put in a great deal of effort to drum up support for their point of view.
“I was, however, slightly disappointed that more town councillors did not speak up and support our proposals.”
But the proposal to recreate the 3ft narrow gauge railway has been welcomed by members of Halesworth Town Council and Mr Bennett said there was considerable support for the plan.
“We have been conducting our own survey and, in particular, are inviting people who have read the proposals in full in the booklet we have produced to let us know their views,” he added.
“So far, at least 80% of those people replying are in favour of the rail link being restored.
“There is no doubt that there has been quite a degree of misrepresentation. I believe that many of the people who were protesting outside Southwold Town Hall felt that the Blyth Valley's wildlife heritage would be destroyed by the railway and this is far from the case.”
David Negus, the author of the society's proposal, said: “There has been considerable comment about the railway crossing the Hen Reed Bed near Reydon, but we are only touching the extreme edge of the site in an area that already has saltwater intrusion.
“I am convinced that the railway would not prove disastrous for the area's wildlife and heritage railways, like the one we are proposing, are successful in other parts of the country where nature conservation is an important factor.”
The railway society will continue to monitor public opinion for and against its proposals.
Mr Bennett said: “We want to get as wide a cross-section of views as possible and there is a lot of local residents who want to see the railway restored.
“It is likely to be January or February next year at the earliest before a decision is made on whether to proceed with our proposals.
“Nothing is cast in concrete and, where we can, we can adapt our plans to take into account of the views we receive. In fact, a number of people have suggested positive alterations that we will be considering.”