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Published: 00:00, 13 May 2016
| Updated: 16:20, 13 May 2016
Councillors have steamed ahead with plans to fund a land purchase for a new model railway centre.
The Ashford International Model Railway Education Centre (AIMREC) project was granted planning permission in March this year on land at the former Klondyke railway works in Newtown Road.
The centre hopes to benefit from the 3 million shoppers who visit the Designer Outlet across the road in Kimberley Way.
Last night Ashford Borough Council’s cabinet members approved a plan to provide a secured loan to AIMREC to enable the purchase of the land from Kier, which they hope will help the project unlock cash from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Some councillors expressed concerns about the potential 50-year repayment period for the scheme. Boughton Aluph ward member Cllr Winston Michael (Ind) led the concerns.
He said: “I understand what the council is doing as regards the town centre cinema in Elwick Road, as that is venture capitalism. It seems to me that this is just the council being a banker.
“If it’s such a good business plan and business model, surely there should be funding in place from external parties?
“I think to myself, why are we waiting 50 years to get our money back? It should be ten to 12 years.”
Meanwhile South Willesborough Cllr David Smith (Ind) said he felt money should be spent on improving Ashford’s existing historical buildings such as the listed railway works.
But council leader Gerry Clarkson said the money is coming from the government and won’t put council tax payers at risk.
He said the project could help bring in thousands of tourists into the borough, and said there are 6 million people in Northern Europe who are “fanatical” about model railways.
Meanwhile council officer Dan Anderson said funding will not be a “shot in the dark” as model villages and exhibitions such as Hamburg in Germany are very successful.
AIMREC spokesman Cliff Parsons said: “We are pleased that the report was passed by cabinet and will now be considered by council. This is another step forward for the project.
“The first two major hurdles have been accomplished, planning permission has been granted and now the acquisition can proceed.”