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Call for railway line reopening runs up against cost objections

Cllr David Harrison has pushed for the Waterside railway line to be reopened to passengers
Cllr David Harrison has pushed for the Waterside railway line to be reopened to passengers

PLOUGHING millions into reopening the Waterside railway line to passengers would not be an “effective” use of resources, a district councillor has claimed.

Conservative Cllr Alan Alvey lobbied instead for the cash to be splashed on the A326 road on the Waterside during the latest meeting of New Forest District Council’s environment and overview committee.

His idea was countered by Liberal Democrat Cllr Malcom Wade, and the pair briefly argued before the committee deferred for six months making a decision over whether it will back the railway plan.

That was because the council’s head of planning, Claire Upton-Brown, revealed that behind-the-scenes research work was being conducted into the scheme.

As reported in the A&T, reopening the line is being considered because there are fears a £1bn plan to redevelop the former Fawley power station site with up to 1,500 homes could exacerbate the already congested A326 and surrounding roads.

The plan by the Fawley Waterside consortium still requires planning permission but many expect it will go through as it will help ease the housing crisis locally.

Computer images of the proposals which include business units and public open space
Computer images of the proposals which include business units and public open space

Known as the Fawley Branch Line or the Waterside Line, the train route diverts from Totton on the Brockenhurst-to-Southampton Central route, going through Hardley and Hythe to Fawley.

As a passenger service, the stations were last used in the 1960s, but the line remains and services still run on it in the form of an enthusiast’s rail tour, and another that serves the freight needs of Marchwood Military Port. A similar service for Fawley Refinery stopped in 2016.

It is not the first time reopening the line has been explored. In 2013, Hampshire County Council investigated the possibility but ultimately opted against it because of cost concerns.

However, it said in 2016 it was again open to the idea because of potential large-scale development on the Waterside, and the Campaign for Better Transport had designated it a priority route for reopening to passenger use.

But Cllr Alvey argued there were “finite resources” available that would have a much better impact if they were used to upgrade the A326. Splurging money on the railway line would only “dilute” any problems created by excess traffic, he claimed.

Citing the previous HCC reports, he added: “I believe these show the cost ratio of the railway line is between low to nominal, and too low to justify to proceed with public spending.”

In response, Cllr Wade said there would “never be enough money to retool” the A326 effectively, claiming it would cost tens of millions. Spending around £10m on the railway line alongside a campaign promoting public transport would be preferable, he said.

“I think [reopening the line] is a good move,” Cllr Wade added. “A lot of people will use it.”

As reported in the A&T, Fawley Waterside Ltd submitted an outline masterplan in May to develop the former power station site with its landmark 650ft chimney.

Computer images of the Fawley Waterside proposals include scope for a primary school, business units, public open space, working docks and a 10-storey centrepiece building, plus a 2,100-space car park.

However, there have been 150 objections by residents to the plans – most of which centre on the impact of the development on the local infrastructure.

Those objections were made despite the consortium pledging to widen the A326 – which it acknowledged is an already “stressed” route because of the daily volume of traffic it hosts.

Parish councils including Hythe and Dibden, Ashurst and Colbury, Fawley and Marchwood, have all called for “major improvements” to the A326.

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