UPDATE: Divisive heritage railway scheme decision postponed

One of Rother Valley Railway heritage trains in Robertsbridge, they could soon be seen crossing the A21 SUS-140226-174118001
One of Rother Valley Railway heritage trains in Robertsbridge, they could soon be seen crossing the A21 SUS-140226-174118001

A decision on a divisive proposal to restore a heritage railway line between Bodiam and Robertsbridge, with a level crossing on the A21, has been postponed.

Rother Valley Railway wants to re-create the missing link allowing steam trains to travel between Robertsbridge and Tenterden.

But the line would cross the A21, which has lead to opposition from people concerned about additional traffic problems, including the A21 Reference Group.

Rother District Council officers recommend approving the proposal ahead of the planning committee meeting this morning (Thursday, February 9), but the application was taken off the agenda at the eleventh hour.

Battle councillor Kevin Dixon said it was deferred until March, but this is unconfirmed.

Other worries raised include flooding, traffic and parking problems in Robertsbridge and the area of outstanding natural beauty.

Nearly 180 supportive comments have been made to the council though, with many people highlighting the economic benefits, including the National Trust.

They also argue the level crossings would not cause more than a minute of disruption as there would not be as many trains using the line as a standard track.

Planning officers back the scheme as the statutory consultants make no reason to turn it down, including Highways England, but stipulate numerous conditions.

If it is passed, the scheme would need to be assessed by the secretary of state for transport and Office of Rail Regulation before the level crossings are built.

The proposed line goes from the train station on Station Road, Bodiam, roughly following the River Rother, under Salehurst, over the A21 to Northbridge Street, Robertsbridge, where a similar line has been built from Robertsbridge Railway Station.

When the scheme was first proposed in 2014, there was widespread opposition to a level crossing on the A21, with a banner going up nearby in protest.

Highways England originally opposed the idea too but has changed its mind saying it would prefer a bridge and admitted a level crossing for a heritage railway will have less impact than a crossing for a main line.

As for the flood risk, there are ‘grave concerns’ it would put Robertsbridge at risk but Rother Valley Railway say it has gone to ‘great pains’ to make sure that is not the case.

The Environment Agency, like Highways England, did initially oppose the plans but has since reconsidered as flood mitigation will be part of the scheme.

Planning officers believe the proposed development would have an acceptable impact on the High Weald AONB, as the line dates back to the 1890s so to an extent it is already part of the landscape.

Another issue of contention is that three different people own the land the line passes through, and opposers claim no agreement has been made with them.

Don’t miss out on all the latest breaking news where you live.

Here are four ways you can be sure you’ll be amongst the first to know what’s going on.

1) Make our website your homepage at www.ryeandbattleobserver.co.uk/

2) Like our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/RyeandBattleObserver

3) Follow us on Twitter @BattleObs

4) Register with us by clicking on ‘sign in’ (top right corner). You can then receive our daily newsletter AND add your point of view to stories that you read here.

And do share with your family and friends - so they don’t miss out!

The Rye and Battle Observer - always the first with your local news.

Be part of it.