'We want it back' - calls grow for return of Weston's miniature railway
- Credit: Archant
Do you remember Weston's miniature railway?
Hundreds of people have joined an action group on Facebook to call for a return of Weston's miniature railway 10 years since it closed.
Set-up by Ollie Stone, the group is calling on Westonians to support a potential new future of miniature locomotive amusement on Beach Lawns, and hopes to reignite passion for the town's 'lost asset'.
Members of the group convened on January 15 at the former site to discuss a railway resurrection. The meeting was attended by Weston's mayor Cllr James Clayton, mayoress Kaylee Rose, Ollie Stone, Cllr Mike Solomon, and previous railway owner Bob Bullock.
Launched in December, the Facebook group now has more than 400 members online.
Popularity soon grew on social media after Ollie posted his fond memories of the railway, this prompted hundreds of people to also share theirs.
Born in Sidmouth, Ollie said he would often visit Weston with his father for a day out at the miniature railway. A boy-hood dream of his, Ollie wants his children to experience the love he felt when visiting the railway, and believes a new operator will help to revitalise the Marine Parade area of the seafront.
He said: "I've had a crazy amount of support from everyone who wants to see it come back - nobody's kicked the idea down, it's brilliant."
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He also drew upon the success of miniature railway's in Clevedon and Exmouth.
Attendees walked the length of the old track and explored the potential viability of reinstating the line. Options also included a plan for the railway to be environmentally friendly, running on electric engines and solar panels.
Mayor Cllr James Clayton also showed his support for the idea, saying: "It would be a great asset and provide a much-needed tourist attraction, along with giving the people of Weston something to enjoy. I would love to see this return to our town."
History of Weston Miniature Railway
A joint venture between Robin Butterell and Michael Severn-Lamb in 1980, the original plan was to build a figure-of-eight track on the north end of Beach Lawns. Woodspring District Council rejected the idea however, and instead offered a spot on the less frequented lawns to the south.
The 820 metre, seven-and-a-quarter inch gauge opened in 1981 as The Beach Lawns Miniature Railway, and carried 12,000 passengers in its first season; despite an embarrassing hiccup when a train failed to start at the grand opening.
Mr Butterell soon noticed after two financially unsuccessful years, that the railway was a loss-maker and agreed a sale to Bob and Sue Bullock, who took over in 1983.
With no profit in Bob's first year, the council - worried that an abandoned railway would be worse than a functioning one - agreed to lease the adjoining putting green and open a café and gift shop in 1984.
From then on the railway grew in popularity reaching 30,000 passengers a year, until spells of bad weather and the Great Recession -- including new parking charges on the seafront -- forced their hands to surrender the lease when it came up for renewal in 2012 and retire. By September, the tracks had been pulled-up and the rolling stock sold.
Following the lines closure, North Somerset Council intended an American-style crazy golf course to take over the site, but the company pulled-out in 2013, leaving the space empty.
Opposition to the miniature railway
The Mercury reported fierce opposition to the plans at the time.
A petition including 720 signatures and 24 letters of objection was sent to the council in 1981, claiming the railway would be 'out of character to the area; be a danger to the elderly and young; spoil an essential and unique amenity, open the way for further development on the lawns, and increase traffic problems on Beach Road'.
One such report from June 1981 said: "Beach Road residents in Weston are complaining to the Ombudsman alleging maladministration by Woodspring District Council following councillors’ 12 to 4 vote in favour of recommending approval of a miniature railway on the beach lawns."
The Local Residents’ Association also placed an advertisement in the paper, it read: "The Miniature Railway is a threat to your right to play, relax or walk on The Lawns. Please make your wishes on this contentious issue known to your councillors."
Even the Mercury itself published an editorial comment on the issue, scorning the council’s decision to allow the tracks to be laid before planning permission was granted, and only giving residents 14 days to object to the plans, saying it was a 'farce'.
"If we allow this railway on this section of the Beach Lawns, what will happen to the rest of the Lawns? Will they, too, have to play host to “attractions”? Just because the council gets no financial return from the Lawns, should we allow all sorts of schemes to occupy them? To hand the Lawns over to a variety of schemes which by their nature hinder people’s enjoyment of their open, uncluttered state would be short-sighted."
The scheme was approved in July 1981 however, by just one vote; this was from the planning committee chairman, Cllr John Crockford-Hawley, after a six votes for and six votes against split.
Objections reported in the Mercury included Cllr Mrs Margaret McGill, who said: "The British public is loathe to walk anywhere" (arguing the railway should be nearer to the Grand Pier), and Cllr Vernon Goold: "The Lawns have always been considered to be free from any commercial exploitation. It is desecration of holy ground to consider a railway."
The go-ahead was given for three years on condition it did not operate after 9pm, any warning sounds, such as bells, are used only in emergencies, and wheelchairs are able to cross the tracks.