Wenhaston: Clash over support for railway proposal

CAMPAIGNERS against the construction of a heritage railway on a stretch of Suffolk countryside have accused developers of corralling support for the proposal.

But the Southwold Railway Trust, behind the bid to bring a half-mile steam line to Wenhaston, near Halesworth, denied gathering outside support to outweigh objection from within the village.

Suffolk Coastal District Council, which will approve or reject the project, said decisions were not based on public majorities and that all views relevant to planning regulations would be considered.

Villagers who criticised the project for being located on a flood plain and threatening heavy visitor traffic are upping their campaign after letters of support reached more than double the number of objections.

Phil Montague, who lives with his family at the east end of the line, said most expressions of interest during consultation have been from outside the county, with some submitted from as far as the Isle of Man and South Korea. He added: “The Trust has been lobbying members to write to Suffolk Coastal in support of this development. The council is surprisingly treating respondents from outside the district as neighbours and giving their views equal merit to local residents.”

The Trust’s publicity officer, the Rev Simon Pitcher, refuted the claim, saying: “We have not been whipping up support. Obviously, the story has appeared in the monthly railway press that is read around the world. The letters of support reflect a global interest in the application.

“We will take on board any comments that are relevant and constructive. We won’t in any way seek to ignore them.”

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Trains last operated at the site more than 80 years ago and, since 1994, the Trust has explored reopening the line. Plans also include rebuilding the old station and creating a wildlife and visitor centre, featuring a cafe and museum.

A spokesman for Suffolk Coastal said: “There is no restriction on who can respond to planning consultation. Applications are not a popularity poll. It’s not about making decisions based on which side has the most support - decisions legally have to be made on the basis of national and local planning policy.

“Every comment will be recorded and reported to councillors who will consider all those views that are relevant to the strict planning criteria which they must use to judge each application. If there is clear public opposition to an application, it will be referred to the relevant development control committee for a decision.”

Consultation expires on October 4. The proposal can be viewed at council’s online planning page.