Published: 00:01, 30 March 2019
Plans for a heritage railway extension that would see Tenterden connected to the mainline have come to a temporary halt.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has made the decision to delay the public inquiry into reinstating a two-mile section of line that would join the heritage Kent & East Sussex Railway to the mainline at Robertsbridge junction in East Sussex.
The decision follows requests from Highways England and the Office of Road and Rail for additional traffic impact studies to be carried out into the effects of installing a crossing on the A21, at Northbridge Street, East Sussex, which would be needed to build the extension.
Rother Valley Railway chairman Gardner Crawley said the railway had requested that the hearing be delayed so it could gather more information on its impact on traffic.
He said: "Although we have managed to satisfy many of the statutory consultees with regards any concerns they may have had about our proposals, Highways England and the Office of Rail and Road have requested additional studies be carried out.
"These are to better understand what effect a level crossing, which would only operate during off-peak hours, would have on the A21."
The public inquiry due to take place in June will now be scheduled for early 2020.
Mr Crawley added: "We are happy to carry out these additional studies and look forward to reassuring these consultees that it will be possible to reinstate the full length of the railway between Tenterden and Robertsbridge, with all the benefits that would bring, without any unduly adverse effects."
Controversially the railway extension requires the compulsory purchase of land at two East Sussex farms – Parsonage Farm at Robertsbridge owned by the Hoads and Moat Farm near Salehurst owned by the Ainslies, who have set up a Facebook page The Great Robertsbridge Train Robbery to oppose the expansion.
But the project has found support among Tenterden residents because of its potential to bring in visitors from London and boost tourism.
Supporters include Tom Lewis, the owner of Morghew Park Estate in Smallhythe Road, who described the heritage K&ESR line that already crosses his land as "a responsible and co-operative neighbour".