Rail enthusiasts have come up with a plan to revitalise Britain’s oldest electric railway and the Conservatives are calling on Brighton and Hove City Council to back the scheme.
The party said that it would call for cross-party support for the plan to rejuvenate Volk’s Electric Railway and boost tourism in the city at a council meeting on Thursday (19 November).
Councillor Robert Nemeth intends to put forward a business case compiled by the Volk’s Electric Railway Association (VERA) at the “virtual” meeting of the Tourism, Equalities, Communities and Culture Committee.
The business case contains five proposals to revitalise the 137-year-old railway.
In a submission to the council, VERA said that the Heritage-designated railway, an asset owned and operated by the council, was currently underutilised, with a route that limited its ability to raise meaningful revenue.
VERA’s proposals to revitalise the railway include
- Improving signage – Installing illuminated signs, visible from the Palace Pier to attract tourists to the heritage railway
- Restoring the Aquarium Station North Siding – Restoring the second siding at Aquarium Station to create a second platform, which will increase the line’s capacity by allowing a three-car service to be run
- Investing in a new accessible railcar – Making Volk’s Railway a tourist attraction accessible to everyone by investing in an accessible railcar for people with a disability
- Installing a shelter at Halfway Station – Installing a purpose-built shelter at Halfway Station for the benefit of passengers waiting in all-weather conditions
- Extending the railway at Black Rock – Extending the railway to a new terminus at Black Rock to form part of the new development there
Councillor Nemeth, who speaks for the Tories on tourism, said that the proposals were important to improving Brighton and Hove’s standing as a tourist destination.
He said: “It is vital for local jobs and our tourist economy that we work to improve Brighton and Hove’s standing as a tourist destination, which is in a precarious position with a recent survey putting the city in the bottom half of the UK’s seaside destinations.
“The Conservative group has been listening to VERA and its proposals and has undertaken a site visit to see how these might work in practice – and we believe these are some exciting and well-thought-out ideas that could boost the tourism economy in the city.
“The installation of a shelter will make the service more attractive for families visiting the kids’ areas.
“As Conservatives, we want to see a thriving tourist economy – and a better utilised Volk’s Electric Railway would be a good step forward.”
Councillor Lee Wares, who speaks for the Conservatives on Transport, said that investing in the restoration of the Aquarium Station North Siding made financial sense.
“The business case that VERA has presented demonstrates how an investment of £25,000 for the restoration of the Aquarium Station North siding would open up a new platform which would immediately boost capacity on the line and, with extra revenue generated, could be repaid within a year.
“This restoration is exactly the sort of financially viable project that the council should be encouraging and helping deliver.
“VERA include engineers among their railway enthusiasts and these proposals are well designed and thought out.
“It is also important to make the electric railway accessible for people with a disability and I welcome the proposals for a new accessible carriage.”
Conservative councillor Mary Mears, who represents Rottingdean Coastal Ward and sits on the council’s Black Rock Task and Finish Group, said that the proposal to extend Volk’s Electric Railway was an idea that could be considered as part of plans for Black Rock regeneration.
She said: “The vacant Black Rock site in my ward is the site of the Old Black Rock Open Air Swimming Pool and has been a derelict site for many years and needs urgent attention.
“The Black Rock Task and Finish Group is set up to help improve the area and increase its use. We plan to make it more attractive to temporary event organisers and also want to improve the lighting and overall public space to make it a more accessible and attractive place to visit.
“This proposal to extend the Volk’s Electric Railway is welcome and could help to boost the regeneration of Black Rock and fit in with the vision of the Task and Finish Group creating a sense of destination for the line. It should therefore be considered by the council.”
Conservative group leader Steve Bell, who has previously suggested an extension to Volk’s Electric Railway to boost tourism, said that it was important both to maintain and utilise the city’s heritage.
Councillor Bell said: “The Conservatives want to conserve our heritage but also harness our heritage to boost the economy.
“That’s why the Conservative team has worked hard to put the restoration of the Madeira Arches on the agenda.
“The 137-year-old Volk’s Electric Railway is also an asset for our city and, as VERA has identified, it is currently underutilised.
“We are a seaside town and the more people we can attract to spend money in the town through tourism, the more it helps our local businesses.
“I have previously called for the extension of Volk’s railway to be considered as part of a plan to boost the economy and I back the consideration of these proposals and their focus on tourism.”
The Conservatives want council officials to prepare a report outlining ways to implement VERA’s suggestions.
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