An amateur railway development in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

It was suggested to me by WildlifeKate that a summary outlining this abomination should be included at the beginning of my blog. So here it is:

In 1853 a branch line off the Newcastle – Carlisle railway was completed between Haltwhistle and Alston, 15 miles up the South Tyne Valley. Too late for the declining lead industry it survived carrying limestone and coal and serving local agriculture. It was closed in 1976, and nature then took over and repaired the damage.

Then the enthusiasts stepped in with a narrow gauge railway. A first stage (2 miles north from Alston) of this railway was opened in 1983. Then a further 1 mile was added. Now after  grants from the Heritage Lottery fund & others totaling £5.5m they are in the process of extending it a further 2 miles to Slaggyford. When this society say “we have consulted those affected” they really mean they have dictated to those affected and made little if any attempt to compromise. With a patron from a non-elected legislature, those who address themselves as noble lords, and the use of a 200 year old railway act they are bulldozing their plans forward with such ludicrous claims as “it would bring an estimated 100,000 visitors to the area per year” and “extending the line to Haltwhistle would cost around £17m”. Considering it has cost £5.5m to extend 2 miles what would you say would be the cost of a further 10 miles? Please bear in mind that this 10 miles includes renovation of two viaducts, the lesser known Knar Burn and the more famous Lambley plus a new bridge over the A69 and renovation of the old bridge over the South Tyne. Try £170m and that would probably be a great bargain!

Now my understanding is that the primary purpose of the AONB designation is to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the landscape, with two secondary aims: meeting the need for quiet enjoyment of the countryside and having regard for the interests of those who live and work there. I can not see what possible benefits, in line with those aims, that a narrow gauge railway will bring.

According to Northumberland County Council, who incidentally leased the old track-way to the society, they do not require planning permission for any of their activities. This includes building toilets, signal box, shop etc. at this old platform. Yet my understanding is that the Government has recently in the National Planning Policy Framework (March 2012) stated that AONBs and national parks have equal status when it comes to planning decisions on landscape issues. So what is going on behind the scenes?

Before destruction commenced the platform looked like the above and now it looks like the following. All of the near trees you can see in the above view have gone. That includes those lovely larch trees.

The construction companies involved have done what they were employed to do. Chop down trees and clear undergrowth etc. etc. producing this;

But part of their master-plan was to widen the very narrow road through the hamlet for their visitors cars and buses. Because they have already, on former agricultural land, next to the old station constructed a car park the size of which Tesco would not have been ashamed.

But then they discovered that the field was common land needing the Secretary of State’s permission to go ahead. Of course that is regardless of the mess they had already created in the centre of our hamlet.

A continuing problem that the contractors had was where they could dump excavated materials from the railway track. So this field in the centre of our village was their answer. Now here lies a problem! The ballast laid on the track bed in the 1850’s was according to local legend taken from the lead mine slag heaps. Not a problem in the 1850’s but quite different now. The heaps contained lead, zinc and cadmium. So I reported this to the Northern Environment Agency and asked them to test the materials which the contractors had so liberally dumped. I have been stonewalled since then – does this smell of something? So at the moment the centre of the village looks like this;

Yesterday, 3rd February, I took these photographs; How long do you suppose that these living organisms that  we call trees can survive this sort of treatment? Trees that are part of this upland landscape, that have struggled and survived in this harsh environment, just like our ancestors.

I will update this blog on a regular basis for those who are interested.

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