Published: 00:01, 24 March 2016
Plans to build a model railway centre in Ashford are going full steam ahead after successful getting planning approval from the council.
The Ashford International Model Railway Excellence Centre (AIMREC) was unanimously approved by a planning committee.
The ambitious plans aim to transform the old Klondyke Railway Works site in Ashford’s Newtown area, which AIMREC says will create an ‘important tourist destination’ for the town that could bring up to £20 million to the local economy.
The scheme has benefited from high-profile celebrity endorsement, including from The Who’s Roger Daltrey and TV presenter and musician Jools Holland.
Mr Daltrey, a model railway enthusiast, formally accepted the role of joint patron of AIMREC last year, sharing the role with businessman Sir William McAlpine.
Councillors addressed residents’ concerns about the education and exhibition centre, including parking provisions and the overlooking viewing tower.
Malcolm Webb, secretary of the South Willesborough and Newtown Community Group (SWNCG) and model railway enthusiast, addressed the meeting on behalf of residents.
He said: “I am concerned about the unwarranted intrusions on the lives of the residents of Newtown.
“The whole of the area will be swamped with cars from AIMREC visitors and where are all these visitors going to park?”
The development includes 60 car parking spaces and the steering committee suggested around 70% of visitors would travel by train.
Cliff Parsons, AIMREC spokesman, said: “Our aim is to create a wow factor with all the model displays and we have more than 150 years’ experience between us in model railway hobbies.
“We will be the only model railway exhibition centre in the world and we will show the history of Ashford railway works.
“We are pleased that planning permission has been granted and look forward to moving to the next stage.
“We can now buy the site, because the sale was subject to planning permission.”
Plans include an observatory, working model railways, including a miniature outside steam train running at weekends and lecture halls.
The centre, which will be open seven days a week from 10am - 5pm, received unanimous support from councillors.