I would like to reply, on behalf of the Aln Valley Railway, to Mr Rob Jewitt’s letter in last week’s Gazette regarding the progress made by the Aln Valley Railway.
It is still an integral and vital part of the Railway’s published business plan that a footpath/cycleway be created alongside the line between Alnwick (Lionheart) and Alnmouth.
There is total agreement with Mr Jewitt’s statement about the potential benefits of this scheme in terms of safety, health and amenity for both local people and visitors.
However, Mr Jewitt goes on to refer to the ‘relatively straightforward’ laying of a footpath. He has been made aware in a private communication from our secretary, that this is not as ‘straightforward’ as it seems.
The Railway must conclude discussions with Network Rail regarding access to the site of Alnmouth station.
A costly Transport and Works Order must be obtained before progress can be made beyond Greenrigg Bridge. This relates to the crossing of public rights of way; it is also a vital prerequisite for the successful conclusion of talks with Network Rail regarding access to their land at Alnmouth station.
Negotiations must be concluded with British Rail Properties regarding Greenrigg Bridge itself.
In addition the Railway is currently conducting negotiations with Sustrans and lawyers regarding the purchase of a strip of former trackbed land near to Alnmouth station.
Discussions are also in progress with TRANSCO regarding the major gas main that lies beneath the proposed alignment of the footpath.
In addition, there is the matter of the funds necessary to construct the footpath and associated protective fencing next to the rail line, and the diversion of resources and labour from other tasks to achieve this.
Perhaps unfortunately from Mr Jewitt’s point of view, it is necessary for the Railway to concentrate on developing the Lionheart site both to provide the engineering base for the housing of the rolling stock and plant necessary to effect future construction work and to bring in vital revenue through the shop, café and the offering of short train rides to the public.
Building the fenced footpath before the rails are laid would absorb considerable finance with no immediate prospect of it being recouped. It would also create problems when track-laying commences.
The path would have to be closed for safety reasons and it is most likely that the ‘new’ fence would need temporary removal to allow space for the movement of construction plant and the delivery and temporary storage of thousands of tons of materials: Sleepers, rails and ballast.
In any case, the railway will be needed to transport materials for the construction of the footpath bearing in mind access difficulties, yet another reason for putting in the infrastructure at Lionheart.
It is simply not correct to say that there is ‘no sign of progress’ as regards the provisions for pedestrians and cyclists.
Firstly, the Railway has spent £8,500 on the improvement of Green Lane between the Lionheart site entrance and the original trackbed, thus eliminating formerly waterlogged areas; this work was carried out by Messrs Purvis, the Alnwick-based contractor.
Secondly, our members and friends have cleared shrubs and small trees from the Cawledge viaduct and cut down trees on the alignment of the future path as well as the annual ‘cutting-back’ of encroaching vegetation. (This work is necessarily limited to the months of October to March to eliminate any disturbance to nesting birds).
In addition, hundreds of flowering plants in the cuttings by the trackbed which were threatened by the future alignment have been moved to places of safety.
Remedial drainage work has been done to eliminate some of the areas which become waterlogged after rain or snow, also to prevent erosion near to, and on, to the Cawledge viaduct.
Finally, approved wildflower seeds have been sown in the cuttings.
During the summer of 2013 we have welcomed several walking groups (from as far away as Tyneside) who have used our railway car park for parking their cars prior to walking along the ‘permissive footway and cycleway’ which currently exists along the trackbed. Representatives of some of these groups visited us in advance for an escorted reconnaissance of the route.
Cycling groups and families have made similar visits. Comments made in our visitors’ book and in emails show the gratitude of individuals from these groups. Many have visited our station site and café at the end of their day out.
Almost 30 ‘conditions’ were attached to our planning consent.
Already much work has been done to secure and landscape the Lionheart site: Fences have been erected and over 100 native trees have been introduced. In addition over 3,500 hedgerow plants (including blackthorn, dog rose and whitethorn) have been planted by our gardening team on the site perimeter.
Numerous beds, tubs and planters provide flowers for attracting bees, butterflies and other wildlife.
The Railway is run by a charitable trust consisting of a relatively small group of very dedicated and hard-working volunteers from many walks of life.
It is wholly reliant upon grant aid and the generosity of the public for funding its development.
The Lionheart site was first occupied in March 2012 and progress has been significant as the thousands of visitors to Lionheart will testify.
Hopefully this letter makes the Railway’s position very clear and will encourage further volunteers and donors to become associated with a project which will become an important amenity for both residents of, and visitors to, the Alnwick area.
Press and PR officer,
Aln Valley Ra