On the wrong track?

Report by ASTRA MORTON, astra.morton@archant.co.uk  North Somerset Times 1 June 2005


The right to get Portishead's railway reopened could have reached the end of the line _ after Government chiefs earmarked the area as possible land for housing.


The former Portishead branch line is one of 700 sites which the Government is investigating building affordable homes on. If the housing plan gets the green light, 5.3 hectares of land, which runs from Portishead to Portbury, could be used to build homes for first time buyers. But the news has angered campaigners who have been fighting to get the line which is owned by the British Railways Board ‑ reopened.


Councillor David Pasley has been leading a special drive to clear the line of plants and shrubs in a bid to raise the profile of the railway. Cllr Pasley said: "Hearing this news has made me feel like blowing a gasket. Even considering using this land as a site for housing shows a total lack of understanding of the problems we have in Portishead. We need the railway, not more homes. I invite John Prescott down here, if he has the courage, to face the residents who have to live in what has become Britain's biggest cul‑de‑sac. If it goes ahead, I will personally hold some form of protest to make John Prescott sit up and think. Yes we need affordable homes in Portishead, but not at the expense of the railway."


Last year the Portishead Heritage Rail Project was set up to raise awareness for the need for a rail link to Bristol.

Portishead currently has a population of nearly 20,000. But this is expected to rise to more than 40,000 as a result‑of the massive regeneration of the docks.


Acting chairman of the Portishead Heritage Rail Project Bishop Roger Sainsbury said: "Although I support building houses on brownfield sites in Portishead, unless we have an adequate transport system extra homes will only cause trouble."


Representatives from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister are unable to say when a decision will be made, how many sites will be chosen, or if more buyouts are likely in the future. The Government has already snapped up a number of redundant NHS sites for affordable homes. The Portishead to Bristol railway line opened in 1867. It ran until 1964 when passenger services were stopped. Freight continued to run for a while but was also stopped in 1981 when the line closed.