Horse-riders and other users of Marriott’s Way have raised concerns about a bid to rebuild a section of railway line on part of the permitted footpath, cycleway and bridleway.
The Whitwell & Reepham Railway Preservation Society has submitted a revised planning application to re-lay track on the station building side into one of the original platforms of Whitwell Station.
The heritage railway group says this will provide better access for disabled and elderly passengers to board the diesel and steams trains operating at the station.
If approved, the plans would involve fencing off several hundred metres of the former Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway track bed, which is now Marriott’s Way, a 26-mile footpath, bridleway and cycle route in the ownership of Norfolk County Council and used extensively by walkers, runners, horse-riders and cyclists.
The scheme would see a two-metre-high wire fence installed to section off more than half of the 6.5-metre-wide gap between the two existing platforms and for some distnace along the track.
Further, the proposed operating time of the trains on the shared track could be 10 am – 10 pm, seven days a week, according to a concerned resident at last week's meeting of Reepham Town Council.
At the meeting, Christopher Cooke, a trustee of the railway preservation society, said that, if approved, the plans would help improve the overall facilities and provide more tourism for the area, possibly leading to more local employment.
He noted that at least six heritage railways across the UK had similar arrangements of sharing the track with other users, adding that the Whitwell plans have been approved by HM Railway Inspectorate.
Other rail enthusiasts praised the range of facilities and activities available at Whitwell Station, saying that what was once a derelict site is now one of the few bright spots in Reepham’s declining commercial fortunes.
However, the equestrian community in particular say the scheme would affect their animals, leading to safety and liability issues.
The fear is that horses will be spooked by the noise and bulk of a train approaching from ahead or behind and and risk trampling over other users, who would have nowhere to go but forward or back on the remaining narrow space.
David Sayer of Blackwater Farm, Great Witchingham, who operates a livery and equestrian event business near the Marriott’s Way, said that several years ago, when similar plans were first put forward, an alternative route had been discussed for horse-riders to avoid the Whitwell Station site.
However, he questioned whether this alternative was ever followed through, arguing that this is the only way forward for the scheme.
Whitwell Station owner Mike Urry, who earlier resigned from the Town Council, told Reepham Life that several alternative routes had been discussed in the past, but these could involve horses being diverted onto a public road for a short distance or permissions being sought from adjacent landowners, which could prove costly to instigate.
Michael Pender-Cudlip, who is a Town Councillor and opposes the planning application, noted that wheelchair users may not be able to get through the narrow doors of old railway carriages currently in use at the station – even if platform access was improved.
He added that the loss of business from the closure of horse/livery businesses far outweighed the potential employment and commercial benefits at the heritage railway, of which there are already several in Norfolk.
However, Whitwell Station’s latest access statement states that running trains into the original platform will help provide wheelchair access to the trains. It adds that the heritage railway’s longer-term ambition is “to extend the line”.
Click HERE for Reepham Town Council's submission to Broadland District Council.
The closing date for comments on planning application 20151939 has been extended to 5 pm, Wednesday 27 January 2016. You can view the documents HERE and send your comments to Broadland by email
Do you support Whitwell Station’s plans? Send an email to Reepham Life
See our earlier story: