Published: 9th June 2016
Cornwall’s Helston Railway has been granted planning permission for a track extension, a new platform, sidings, car park and access road for its base at Prospidnick Halt. The planning application, submitted in 2013, had been refused by Cornwall Council amid residents’ fears of noise and traffic problems. The railway appealed and on June 2 the Planning Inspectorate announced the appeal had been allowed and permission granted.
If the railway had been unable to develop a new operating base at Prospidnick Halt it seemed doomed to closing down. The decision to grant planning permission means the railway has a future and can look forward to developing a significant tourist attraction.
The project to revive a part of the original Helston Railway (closed to passengers in 1962, freight in 1964 and track lifted in 1965) got started in spring 2005 under the auspices of Helston Railway Preservation Society. Initial efforts concentrated at Trevarno, providing an attraction aimed at visitors to Trevarno Estate and Gardens, at the time open to the public. By the end of 2011 initial cab rides in a Ruston diesel had progressed to carrying fare paying passengers in a brake van hauled by the Ruston.
Planning permission secured in 2010 covered laying additional track, the railway now having permission to reinstate one mile of railway linking Trevarno station to Truthall and construct a station building at Truthall. The first passenger was carried to Truthall Summit on July 19 2012 but a major issue had by then emerged at the other end of the line.
The Trevarno Estate had been put up for sale (the estate gardens closed from April 2012) and Trevarno station and car park were both on estate land. Although the trackbed of the railway was not included in the land for sale and future running of trains was not in itself precluded, when the sale went through Helston Railway had to vacate the Trevarno Station site, move its passenger operation to the northern end of its line at Prospidnick and find a new car parking area – hence the crucial nature of the 2013 planning application.
They said: “This is a milestone in the history of our project,” commented James Packman, chairman of Helston Railway’s operating company. “We will now be able to extend our train services right up to our car park area and provide our visitors with a first class heritage railway attraction. There is a tremendous amount of work to be done. However, all our volunteers are on tremendous form as usual and looking forward to the challenge”.
Reasons for granting the planning appeal are particularly noteworthy, recognising the wider value of heritage railway projects. The Planning Inspector commented, “As noted in the Report on the Value of Heritage Railways by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Heritage Rail in 2013, social and economic benefits are derived from developing heritage railways.
Whilst some interested parties have queried the extent of the economic benefits that would arise from the appeal scheme, the proposal would benefit tourism interests in this part of Cornwall and assist in strengthening the local economy.”
In addition, the Inspector observed, “Social benefits would also ensue with rail enthusiasts taking part in the reinstatement of a further section of rail track and in assisting visitors. The proposal would also offer educational benefits. In this regard, I note the letter of support from the College of Humanities at the University of Exeter, as well as the engagement with local schools. These benefits carry considerable weight.”
The Heritage Railway Association, often considered the ‘trade body’ supporting Britain’s heritage lines, quickly welcomed the planning decision.
Formation of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Heritage Rail referred to by the Planning Inspector was initiated by Nicky Morgan MP with the active support from the outset by HRA, which continues to closely liaise with the Group.
“The planning decision is good news for the Helston Railway, and it’s great news for all UK heritage railway operators,” commented HRA chairman Brian Simpson. “All the data says that heritage railways bring truly valuable benefits to their communities with little, if any, disadvantages. The trickle-down benefits of heritage railway operation can be widespread and lasting.”
The All Party Parliamentary Group’s Report on Heritage Railways says that the sector employs the equivalent of more than 4,000 workers, who generate a combined annual turnover of some £110million. In 2013, almost 11 million people enjoyed a visit to a heritage railway. The Report calculates that heritage rail is worth £250million to UK tourism annually.
“The All Party Parliamentary Group Report doesn’t just confirm what our members already understand, in terms of the economic, social and educational benefits of heritage rail, observed Brian Simpson. “It brings authoritative support, from a very high level, to heritage rail operators who may be faced with a need to reassure doubters that their plans bring good things to a community at little or no cost. Helston Railway’s successful appeal has demonstrated that very clearly.”
Helston Railway will be open on Sundays and Thursdays until October 30, followed by Santa Specials in December.
Helston is the most westerly heritage line in England. For visitors outside the South-West it may be worthwhile planning a trip which takes in other heritage railways in the area. Other heritage lines in Cornwall are the standard gauge Bodmin & Wenford Railway (with a cross-platform national network interchange), 2ft gauge Launceston Steam Railway and the Lappa Valley Railway attraction.