Red light for Causeway rail scheme

Email:

lisa.gregg@thechronicle.uk.com

COUNCIL planners have rejected proposals to extend the Bushmills to Giant's Causeway railway and move station facilities closer to the village.

The charity, which operates the train, insists the development would alleviate worsening traffic congestion around the Causeway visitor centre.

It is now seeking to bring the proposal before the council's elected planning committee in a bid to overturn officers' recommendation.

It was rejected by planning officials under policies restricting development within 5km of the World Heritage Site.

The Causeway & Bushmills Railway Company Ltd had proposed extending the train tracks by around 500 metres and building a new station complete with parking, ticket office and cafe close to the junction between the Ballaghmore and Dunluce Roads.

The building also includes two apartments whose sale was necessary to fund the scheme, according to the developers agent.

They argued the railway made an essential contribution to the visitor experience at the World Heritage Site.

The agent also insisted the scheme would help alleviate congestion that is threatening to overwhelm Bushmills and roads close to the visitor centre.

PROPOSAL

However, according to Causeway Coast and Glens Council planners, the station proposal fell foul of policies adopted in 2015.

Specifically they point to a designated zone surrounding the Giant's Causeway were development is limited to small extensions, replacement buildings and “exceptionally modest scale facilities necessary to meet the direct needs of visitors to the World Heritage Site.”

SIMILAR

In a bid to persuade planners the station met these requirements the developer pointed out that similar facilities were in place at the other end of the line.

They said the new station was essential in order to bring the experience of visitors up to an appropriate standard.

Planners agreed the track extension, station and ticket office could be considered exceptions to policies safeguarding the Causeway's setting.

But they they did not agreed a cafe - and especially the apartments merited the same treatment.

CONTROLS

The planners report concluded: “The proposal does not qualify as an exception and therefore does not justify a relaxation of the strict planning controls in this area.”

Speaking to the Chronicle, a spokesperson for the Railway Company said: “We believe this development can play a crucial role in reducing traffic at the Causeway.

“Bringing the station closer to Bushmills will not only encourage visitors to leave their cars behind, but also bring footfall into the village and encourage trade.

“The facilities we propose would also provide much needed shelter and services at the railway's busy embarkation point in Bushmills.”

LAST SERVICE

The Bushmills to Giant's Causeway Line is the last remaining section of a service that once ran all the way to Portrush.

When the line opened as a tramway in 1883, it was powered by a revolutionary hydroelectric system generated from a plant on the River Bush.

The line closed in 1949 but was revived in the 1990s using a steam locomotive previously operated as a tourist attraction at Shane's Castle in Antrim.

The Giant's Causeway and Bushmills Railway Company is a not-for-profit organisation with charitable status.

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