A PARISH council has unanimously backed plans to investigate reopening the Waterside railway line for passengers.
It closed to the public in the late 1960s but continued to serve Marchwood Military Port and, until a few years ago, Fawley oil refinery.
With plans for 1,500 at the former Fawley power station site, Hythe and Dibden Parish Council has now thrown its support behind campaigners who hope to see it restored following a discussion at its latest meeting.
As reported in the A&T, in January transport secretary Grant Shapps announced the government had set aside £500m to restore passenger services across the UK in order to reverse previous cuts decades earlier.
MPs, local authorities and community groups across England are now being asked to come forward with proposals on how they could use funding to reinstate axed local rail services.
Last month the parish council heard a presentation from Nick Farthing, chairman of the Three Rivers Community Rail Partnership, a not-for-profit group which aims to promote and improve local bus and train services.
He was also present at Wednesday’s meeting where members were told the project could cost around £20m-£30m to implement. He said he hoped a trial service would begin within 18 months to two years, with the line completely open within three to five years.
He said: “We’ve got a massive opportunity to bid for funding here, which is not going to be taken away from any other budgets. There is no doubt about it, more housing is coming. Currently there is only one way in and out of the area, on the A326. It will be chock-a-block everywhere. We need solutions.”
He added: “We’re working with Hythe Ferry and Bluestar. We’re not trying to take business away from anyone.”
The original station building in Marchwood could be reopened but a new station would have to be built in Hythe as the original is now a heritage centre.
Further along the line would be another new station, Hythe and Fawley Parkway, which would include a park-and-ride facility. The trains would not run through Fawley refinery, Mr Farthing added.
But one resident was critical of the idea, telling the meeting: “The plan is undeveloped, uncritical and silent on issues that affect the area, such as the buses and ferry.
“It won’t make the slightest bit of difference to the A326 traffic – the number of people who will migrate from cars will be minimal. It will cause massive issues on the local roads, for people sat waiting at the train gates. If this goes ahead the gates will close every 15 minutes.”
Marchwood Parish Council also recently agreed to support in principle the restoration of the passenger railway. But the parish’s New Forest district councillor, Cllr Sue Bennison, spoke out against the idea.
She said: “Initially I was in favour of the railway returning, but then I received a number of emails from residents with concerns. It soon became clear to me that the impact would not be just to those closest to the railway, but to Marchwood as a whole.”
She voiced concerns about residents living close to the closed lines who would suffer noise as well as traffic “gridlock” when the trains were passing through, due to the village having three level crossings.
But Hythe and Dibden chair Cllr Malcolm Wade gave his support to the project and said: “We cannot go on as we are now.
“There will be more cars, more carbon emissions. Hampshire County Council don’t have the money to fix the roads. We need to look at doing something different – we can’t just carry on.”
Cllr Alex Wade agreed and said just a few days earlier he had been affected by huge tailbacks caused by a broken down car.
He added: “I have some concerns about the impact on the ferry and buses [but] I think it is important to support it at this time.”
The meeting also heard from Cllr David Marshland who said: “We are not being asked to approve the railway. We are being asked to approve a project to look in to it. I don’t think there is enough evidence yet to say if it’s a goer or not.”