Coastal rail lines fear funding cut

Vital rural rail lines face losing �65,000 worth of support cash in the impending county hall cutbacks.

They are the Bittern Line linking North Norfolk to Norwich and the Wherry Lines from the city to Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft.

Community rail partnerships which promote the routes each get �20,000 worth of cash and they share �25,000 worth of officer support from Norfolk County Council.

But the sum is among the many pieces of spending under the microscope as the county looks to shed �155m from its budget over the next three years to deal with government grant pruning.

The move has angered partnership chiefs who are meeting this week to discuss their strategy for fighting the proposed cuts.

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Plans to prune the support are outlined in the ongoing Big Conversation public consultation seeking public views before tough decisions are made in the New Year.

Proposals say the money is mainly used by the rail partnerships for marketing and administration and would not affect the rail services. The county council also says partnerships in other parts of the country such as Kent and Devon operate without council support.

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The partnerships have however played an important part in developing lines which are not profitable for the operators but are vital to the economic development and quality of life of communities along the route,

They promote journeys linked to tourist attractions, walks, pubs, cafes and churches, and the Bittern Line partnership, launched in 1996, won an international award in 2006 for helping boost passenger numbers by 170 pc to 500,000 a year.

Chairman Ted Gadsden however stressed the line to Cromer and Sheringham was more than just recreational, providing an important commuter route boosting employment prospects and, in the absence of dual carriageways, was a major transport artery.

They would be fighting any cuts, but also being pragmatic and looking at other options if the grant was axed or reduced.

His Wherry Lines counterpart Peter Lawrence said funding withdrawal would 'impact on what we can do' and he aimed to contact councillors and MPs along their routes seeking support to save it.

County council travel development team manager Jeremy Wiggin said the partnerships had to decide if they were prepared to accept a full withdrawal, part or phased reduction. Stakeholders should make their views known through the consultation which runs until January 10, ahead of decisions on February 14, but he stressed: 'It is only a proposal and nothing has been agreed.'

To take part in the consultation visit or write to the council at Freepost Your Norfolk.

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