Funicular railway a lift for Felixstowe?

FELIXSTOWE should spend one million pounds to build a cable car railway on its steep hills to boost the shopping centre's prosperity.That was the demand from a businessman at the resort who believes the centre is suffering from potential customers' lack of mobility.

FELIXSTOWE should spend one million pounds to build a cable car railway on its steep hills to boost the shopping centre's prosperity.

That was the demand from a businessman at the resort who believes the centre is suffering from potential customers' lack of mobility.

But Hastings council, who run a cliff railway, have said that it will not work if there is not a star attraction to draw more people in to the town centre.

Jim Adams, of Jim and Donna's Barbers Shop, Hamilton Road, said that elderly visitors, who are normally dropped off by coaches on the sea front, cannot climb the steep hills leading to the shops and so has meant the town's economy has suffered.

"We have a very steep hill called Bent Hill which I get tired driving up. It is a barrier for people who are not fit and healthy to come to Felixstowe," he said.

"We get a tremendous number of people come to Felixstowe but they never get in to the town."

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Mr Adams said that hardly any of the elderly seaside visitors came in to the town centre last summer because of steep hills.

Sixty per cent of Mr Adams's customers live outside the Felixstowe area and so he believes it has especially had a negative impact on his business.

He called for a funicular, a cable railway which ascends and descends on a pulley system, to be built two years ago and hired an architect to plan and estimate the cost.

Ideally the lift would be constructed in the Spa Pavilion Gardens and run from Hamilton Gardens opposite the end of Ranelagh Road to the seafront. Architect Bob Edwards told Mr Adams that the link would cost £800,000 and that lottery funding should be available because the lift would be seen as a benefit to the community.

Mr Adams has now said that the cost of the cable car will probably have risen to around £1m.

Felixstowe did have a road train running from the shore to the shopping centre a few years ago but it became too expensive and unreliable because there were not enough drivers available.

However in Hastings, East Sussex, their cliff railway has remained in use for a century.

The fully-functioning East Hill lift, which opened in 1902, and the West Hill lift was first run by a water balance until it was modernised and converted to be powered by an electric motor in the 1970s.

A quarter of a million residents and visitors benefit from the West Hill and the 265ft long East Hill lift in the historical town and with an incline of 28 per cent, the steepest in the country, it has proved useful and popular.

Nick Sangster, from Hastings Borough Council, said that the reason the railway has continued to be successful is because extra money has been drawn in from spin-offs like souvenir shops and ice cream parlours near by.

Also one of the railways leads to Hastings Castle and other tourist attractions, which ensures that it is used frequently. And in the winter, when fewer tourists come to visit, the railway can still break even because local people use it.

Mr Sangster said the lifts were an integral part of the transport system in Hastings and not just a tourist attraction.

He said although the council, who runs the railway, makes a profit of between £5,000 and £10,000 a year, the railway can prove expensive to the detriment of ratepayers.

"Whoever is operating them has to have long term commitment," he said.

"It is still council owned in Hastings as there are in other towns because it is a fine line between running them economically and running as a business.

"It is very expensive to maintain. We can go and spend a few thousand pounds a year then have a major thing like the gear box." He said the gearbox had to be replaced last year, which cost the council £100,000.

A mud slide also had to be cleared up recently which put one of the railways out of action for six to eight weeks and cost £30,000 to rectify.

"It is very much loved in Hastings, it is probably a very different story to build a new one than maintain an existing one.

"There were few alternatives in the 1900s when they were built, there are different ways of approaching the cost to build them now."

He advised Mr Adams that the owners would need to be prepared for the high operating ands maintenance costs

"They need to think very carefully where the money to build it will come from.

"Ours probably takes more to run but the equipment, the running costs can be very draining. As a stand alone feature or attraction it isn't likely to be successful, it needs something else to make it work."

Fact file

East Hill lift – Hastings:

Opened on April 9, 1902, Coronation Day.

Cost: £6,000 to build at that time.

Refurbishment between 1973 and 1976 cost £35,000.

Fees: 80p for adults and 40p for children.

The upper station was designed to look like a castle and is sometimes mistaken for Hastings Castle.

Some other funicular towns: Folkestone, Kent; Lynton, Devon; Bournemouth, Dorset, and Scarborough, North Yorkshire.

First water-balanced lift: Opened in Scarborough in 1874.

Longest funicular: The Lower Great Orme cliff railway in Llandudno, Conwy at 797 metres.

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