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Hoping miniature railway plan steams ahead again

A farm is hoping its plans for a miniature railway are back on track after resubmitting an application to Cheshire East Council.

Rob Lomas wants to build the attraction at Glebe Farm in Astbury to further diversify and become “more resilient to market conditions”.

He withdrew his original plan earlier this year after describing opponents as “whingers” and vowed to resubmit a new proposal, saying he was not “giving in”.

Mr Lomas has said the new application addressed concerns raised by planning officers about the original proposal, who were concerned about the visual impact, preserving the openness of the green belt and an “unacceptable adverse impact” on the character and appearance of the area.

The previous application received 55 letters of support and 33 from objectors.
Submitted at the end of May, the new plan has already received more than 40 letters of support from as far away as Devon, Milton Keynes, south Wales and Kendal.

Some were from east Cheshire including Congleton as well as Alsager, Sandbach and Crewe, and from Biddulph.

By Friday, no comments appeared to have been lodged by anyone living in Astbury, from where a number of objections were made to Mr Lomas’s first application.

Opponents living locally in their response to the first set of plans were concerned about increased traffic, said that railway would run along the rear boundary of the adjacent dwellings and said that those who supported the application did not live next to the site.

They also pointed out that there was a steam train at Rudyard Lake that people could visit, although the Glebe Farm track is being installed and run by the Rudyard Light Railway owners.

A design and access statement with the resubmitted application mentioned that Glebe Farm had already diversified and included caravan storage, retail units, café, farm shop and open farm.

As in the original application, it stated: “It has become apparent to Mr Lomas that the business must diversify further from its current agricultural activities in order to become more resilient to poor market conditions”.

The railway will use sections of the existing farm yard, car park and surrounding fields. The track layout has been designed to use “otherwise unproductive areas” of the farmland and farmyard such as the section running adjacent to the farm drive and animal paddocks.

A trench will be excavated to minimise the visual impact of the railway. Locomotives pulling carriages would be powered by steam, diesel and battery. The capacity of the train with three carriages is a maximum of 24 people. Two stations would be incorporated within the railway’s design and a level crossing with a barrier and flashing light board would be installed on the existing car park. Locomotives would be stored in existing farm buildings.

In response to concerns about preserving the openness of the green belt, photographs in the latest application of a test run on a temporary track “demonstrates the low profile of the train and how small the tracks are”.

The plan said once established the railway “will enhance the character of the local area”.

It added: “The view across Glebe Farm to the Church of St Mary from Peel Lane will remain unaffected due to development being 5.5cm above ground level, maintaining vistas across the conservation area.”

Astbury Parish Council had originally raised concerns about the number of vehicles visiting the site, but the latest application said that there was sufficient parking to prevent cars parking on public highways, most notably Peel Lane.

One of the emails sent to Cheshire East in support of the application was from a resident of Field View Road, Congleton, which said: Brilliant idea! I own a local nursery and we regularly visit local attractions with the children, and this would be a fantastic experience for them.”

Another, from someone living on Cresswellshawe Road, Alsager, said: “As a parent of a disabled teenager it’s something that is big enough for them to have a ride and enjoy.

“Glebe Farm is an amazing place that is great for all ages and having a small railway is an added bonus whatever the age 0-100 and also suitable for all abilities.”

A resident of Crabmill Drive, Sandbach, said: “Glebe Farm is a good place to take children for a family day out, but it is currently limited on its entertainment. This proposal would vastly improve the farm’s entertainment value and benefit the local economy.”

The Cheshire East planning application reference number is 22/1550C.

The last date for submitting comments is 7th July with a decision target date of 29th August.

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