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Ashford International Model Railway Excellence Centre could open in historic engine sheds

By Dan Wright

Historic engine sheds at the former Ashford railway works could become the new home of a model train centre.

Bosses behind the ambitious Ashford International Model Railway Excellence Centre
(AIMREC) proposal had gained planning permission in 2016 to build the attraction on the former Klondyke works site on the other side of Newtown Road.

But tests found the land close to the Designer Outlet was contaminated and unsuitable for development so leaders behind the proposal had to find a new site.

Disused engine sheds at the former railway works could be used
Disused engine sheds at the former railway works could be used

AIMREC chief executive Cliff Parsons says they are now looking to open the centre in dilapidated sheds on the railway works, which have been left disused for years.

“If everything goes to plan, we will be in the old railway works across the road from Klondyke and it will be twice as big,” he said.

“Finding the contaminated land was a major setback, but it was not the end of the world. These things happen and everything is progressing now.

The centre could open in spring 2021
The centre could open in spring 2021

“We are now considering a move across the road, where the model railway centre will be a major part of a proposed new project.”

Mr Parsons says he is working on the plans with bosses at Ashford Borough Council, who have applied to the government for cash to buy the land, which is owned by Kier.

They have submitted a multimillion-pound bid to the government’s marginal viability fund, which is part of a £2.3 billion pot offering money to local authorities to help build new homes.

What was proposed for the Klondyke site
What was proposed for the Klondyke site

Mr Parsons, who lives in Woodchurch, says the council is due to hear in about a month’s time whether its bid for the cash had been successful.

He added: “We are hoping to hear about the grant soon.

“It would be fantastic for us as the centre would be a major tourist attraction.

Singer Roger Daltrey is behind the plan
Singer Roger Daltrey is behind the plan

“We are looking to take a third of the space and would have enough room to put a model railway indoors. It would put Ashford on the map.”

If the bid is successful Mr Parsons says the centre, which is still supported by musicians Roger Daltrey and Jools Holland, would open in spring 2021, a year later than originally planned.

It would go across 60,000 sq ft and is expected to attract up to 500,000 visitors a year.

The former Ashford railway works
The former Ashford railway works

Mr Parsons said it would be part of a major redevelopment of the historic works, but he would not go into detail about what else is proposed for the site.

Council spokesman Dean Spurrell confirmed the authority has submitted a multimillion-pound bid for cash to acquire the land, but he would not reveal the exact sum requested due to “commercial sensitivity”.

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