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Fears over £80,000 project

PUBLISHED: 15:28 11 September 2002 | UPDATED: 12:37 03 March 2010

VILLAGERS fear a railway museum's ambitions to attract more tourists to the region with an £80,000 expansion project will shatter their rural peace.

Their concerns come as enthusiasts at the Mid Suffolk Light Railway in Wetheringsett, near Stowmarket, are celebrating winning a £15,000 grant towards the project to build a new cafe, shop and lecture room as part of the ongoing transformation of the museum.

VILLAGERS fear a railway museum's ambitions to attract more tourists to the region with an £80,000 expansion project will shatter their rural peace.

Their concerns come as enthusiasts at the Mid Suffolk Light Railway in Wetheringsett, near Stowmarket, are celebrating winning a £15,000 grant towards the project to build a new cafe, shop and lecture room as part of the ongoing transformation of the museum.

Three years ago the trustees of the museum embarked on a £55,000 project to build an exhibition hall, archive facility and toilets. The trustees now want to add to the range of facilities to boost visitor numbers and are seeking funds from local authorities.

Richard Watson, a trustee and treasurer of the Mid Suffolk Light Railway, believes the museum is a valuable asset to the area, potentially attracting tourists and business to the county.

But Kevin Howard, of Potash Cottage in Wetheringsett, is concerned. Fears have been voiced in the past about noise and extra traffic on the dangerous A140 as people drive to visit the site. Mr Howard fears the latest development will shatter locals rural peace and quiet.

He said: "Previous applications by the museum to fully develop the site have been turned down by the mid Suffolk's planning committee as being detrimental to the local environment, even though it recognised that jobs would be created.

"However this has not deterred the museum from pursuing their aims on a creeping basis.

"At no stage has the museum considered the amenity of local residents. If you have ever visited Wetheringsett, other than to visit the museum, you will note the peace and quiet, even though it is so close to the A140 and during the summer weekends this will be lost forever if the Museum achieves its aims.

"The light railway will ceased to be remembered for its journey through

rambling Suffolk countryside, but will be known for a short trip from the Wetheringett station to the back of someone's house.''

Mid Suffolk District Council's Executive Committee have voted in favour of giving the museum £15,000 towards its ambitions, with conditions.

The executive voted in principle to commit up to £15000 towards the railway development, subject to receiving an effective business plan, information on administration costs, plans if the project should fold, an update on visitor numbers and information on external fundraising.

Councillor Mike Shave said: "I see this as a possible future asset to mid Suffolk's tourism industry.''

Councillor Mike Norris added: "I fully support the aims and objectives of the Mid Suffolk light Railway. It is important that this historic element of mid Suffolk dating back from the last century is encouraged.''

The museum has submitted other bids to various bodies across the county, including Suffolk County Council.

The Mid Suffolk Light Railway Society was established in 1990 by a group of enthusiasts who were keen to create a small museum on the site of the former light railway that ran from Haughley to Laxfield during the 19th and early 20th Centuries.

Carrying both agricultural goods and passengers, it finally closed in 1952. The museum now attracts about 1,000 visitors over its summer season.

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