Tourism backing for KESR galas as link row rumbles on

By Geoff Courtney

Against a background of a fierce ongoing debate about the planned link-up of two heritage railways in Kent and Sussex, a local tourist organisation has come out in strong support of the value of one of the railway’s gala events.

Kevin Boorman, manager of 1066 Country Marketing, which promotes the region’s history and culture and includes on its board representatives of a number of local authorities, made his comments after local Conservative MP Amber Rudd and the tourism chief of one of the local authorities on the board each hit out at a privately funded £4½ million project to link Robertsbridge-based Rother Valley Railway with the Kent & East Sussex Railway.

Take your pick: KESR Austerity 0-6-0ST No. 25 Northiam, built by Hunslet Engine Co in 1953 for the Army and recently returned from major overhaul, emerges from the trees near the top of Tenterden bank with a train from Bodiam on July 14. The railway will be holding a hop-pickers’ festival on September 8-9, precisely 60 years after the last special trains brought in the pickers from London. GEOFF COURTNEY

The strongest attack on the project came from Coun Sally-Ann Hart, a local magistrate and Rother District Council’s cabinet member for tourism and culture, whose comments were reported in last month’s issue of Heritage Railway.

She astonished many supporters of the plan with claims that linking the railways, which would provide a 14-mile heritage line between Tenterden and Robertsbridge connected to the national rail network, would be of little tourism and economic benefit to the region.

One of her standout opinions was the project was not a major tourist attraction that would materially benefit the district, but was “merely a hobby project by a group of privately funded railway enthusiasts”, and that a level crossing on the A21 Robertsbridge bypass that is part of the project would be a “tragedy” for Hastings, Rother towns and villages, and their visitor attractions.

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