A HISTORIC steam train has received nearly £700,000 to fund improvements.
The funding will allow the Bluebell Railway to construct a tunnel under their line to allow people access to the surrounding countryside.
It will also invest in solar panels to lower its rapidly rising energy bills with funding from Mid Sussex District Council.
The tunnel will be built within seven kilometers of Ashdown Forest on plans for 200 homes, which means the developer will need to create and maintain what is known as a suitable alternative natural green space.
This policy aims to help protect the forest from excessive visitor numbers that “could adversely affect the protected species of birds that nest in the forest” by making other natural spaces available to visit.
People have previously accused developer Taylor Wimpey and the Vistry Group of “destroying” Hill Place Farm, which is the site of the housing development and natural space.
Councilor Robert Salisbury, Cabinet Member for Planning, said: “Natural England has advised Council that one of the best ways to protect Ashdown Forest from increasing visitor numbers is to provide alternative areas for visitors.
“Therefore, if developers wish to build new homes within a 7km radius of Ashdown Forest, they must provide suitable Alternative Natural Green Spaces (SANG) or provide funds for the improvement of existing green spaces.
“The new SANG at Hill Place Farm is a wonderful place for locals to relax, exercise and enjoy the natural surroundings. It’s fantastic for people to have such beautiful green spaces on our doorstep and it only gets better over the years as more improvements are made.”
Hill Place Farm’s green space in East Grinstead is divided into two parts, with the Bluebell Railway line running through the middle of the site.
The existing natural space of “grassland habitats, natural woodland and stunning views of the historic Imberhorne Lane viaduct” will see more planting as part of the development.
The tunnel will allow pedestrian access to all parts of the space.
Council has loaned Bluebell Railway £692,000 so they can get started on the plans straight away rather than waiting for developer funding.
It then withholds the financial contributions from the property developer until the advance payment has been repaid.
Cllr Salisbury added: “We are grateful to the Bluebell Railway for supporting public access throughout the SANG site and I hope this funding will help the railway in its efforts to switch to more sustainable energy sources.
“The Bluebell Railway is one of the major tourist attractions in our district and plays an important role in preserving our heritage.
“The City Council has provided upfront funding to the Bluebell Railway so they do not have to wait for developer funding and can proceed immediately with their railway improvement plans.
“The municipality then withholds the developers’ financial contributions until the advance is repaid.”
Geoff Mee, Chairman of Bluebell Railway PLC said: “We have always taken pride in caring for the environment along the route in this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
“We will use this money to reduce our environmental footprint by installing solar panels on some of our buildings to reduce our rapidly increasing corporate energy costs.”
There was a petition against Linden Homes plans to build houses on the land in 2014.
East Grinstead City Council also recommended denying the development in 2015.
https://www.theargus.co.uk/news/23021771.bluebell-railway-given-nearly-700-000-habitat-development/?ref=rss Bluebell Railway received nearly £700,000 for habitat development