Southwold rail visitor centre plan approved despite concerns

John Bennett, from the Southwold Railway Trust.

John Bennett, from the Southwold Railway Trust. - Credit: Archant

A charity has been given the go-ahead to build a new visitor centre - despite fears from residents it could leave an already busy coastal resort over-run with tourists.

Town councillor Will Windell told a public meeting that the Southwold Railway Trust's plan to build an engine shed at the Old Gas Works Site in Blyth Road, Southwold would 'only contribute to visitor pressure without any compensating benefits'.

He added: 'Southwold already has an acute parking problem. This will only make it worse.'

But Waveney District Council's planning committee approved the move after planning committee member Alison Cackett argued: 'It's the success of Southwold that's the reason why people come.

'If you stopped that, then you would lose Southwold.'

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In a speech to the planning committee yesterday (Tuesday, May 17), Mr Windell said: 'The only possible justification for this development is if it diversifies the economy.

'Southwold's economy is already reliant on tourism. Adding another tourism attraction will not diversify the economy.'

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But Ms Cackett said: 'I appreciate people living in Southwold are worried they're being over-run with tourists.

'I'd say: 'Think yourself lucky.'

'I think you need to be very careful. I think it's an excellent idea and I can't see how we'd justify not approving it.'

John Bennett, chairman of the railway trust - which is also campaigning to reinstate a half-mile steam line to Wenhaston - said there was 'enormous interest' in the town's railway heritage and that this would give people an insight into that.

The meeting also heard how the district council had already approved a similar plan on a nearby site in the same road seven years earlier.

That project was never built because contamination of that previous site made it not viable.

But while planning committee member Sue Allen said the number of tourists to Southwold had greatly increased in that time, fellow member Ian Graham said: 'We've already approved that this type of road is suitable for this type of project in the past.

'I can't see any reason to turn it down.'

However the access road to the site - which is used by pedestrians and cyclists - is owned by the Southwold Common Trust, which would have to agree to any work being completed.

Matthew Horwood, a trustee and member of the Common Trust's management committee, said: 'It would affect the quiet and tranquillity of the common and the safety of pedestrians and cyclists who use the footpath.'

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