Council tourism chief slams Rother heritage rail project

By Geoff Courtney

A COUNCIL tourism chief has mounted a fierce attack on plans to link two heritage railways, despite the project being given approval by the council of which she is a member and an independent report saying that the plan would boost the local economy annually by more than £4 million and create up to 75 jobs.

The scheme would link the Rother Valley and Kent & East Sussex railways, and so create a 14-mile heritage line that supporters and many local residents believe would be a major tourism and employment boost to the two towns at each end of the line – Tenterden and Robertsbridge – and to local villages, due in part to it having a direct connection to the national rail network.

Missing link: With the Austen’s Bridge extremity of the Kent & East Sussex Railway at one end and the Rother Valley Railway at the other, the two-mile gap between the two railways, which follows the route of the line that was closed by BR in January 1954, is marked in red. The RVR hopes to bridge the gap and create a 14-mile heritage line between Robertsbridge and Tenterden, but farmers who own the land are opposing the plans. Salehurst Halt was one of the stations that closed with the line in 1954. TREVOR STREETER

However, Rother District Council cabinet member for tourism and culture Sally-Ann Hart claims in an article in the Conservativehome daily blog website under the headline “Restoring steam trains is a threat to the Rother Valley” that the project was not a major tourism attraction that would materially benefit the district.

It was, she said, “merely a hobby project for a group of privately-funded railway enthusiasts” and that local people were being “bulldozed by big hitters”.

Using wording that is in part similar to that in a survey by local Conservative MP Amber Rudd, whose opposition to the planned link was revealed in last month’s Heritage Railway, Coun Hart hits out at a proposed level crossing across the A21 Robertsbridge bypass that would be part of the project.

She claimed that the crossing would have a negative impact on the economic growth of Rother district and on Hastings, despite this seaside town being 11 miles from the proposed location of the crossing, while she accused those behind the plans of not thinking about the “far reaching consequences of their quest for a giant model railway (sic) cutting across our beautiful countryside”.

She said the crossing was “a nonsense” and “a tragedy” for Hastings and Rother towns and villages and their visitor attractions, and would kill any hope of continuing to build tourism and economic growth.

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