Plans to extend Bala Lake Railway line look set to be derailed when they go before Snowdonia National Park Authority next week.
Bala Lake Railway is appealing to the public, in particular to the people of Bala, Llangywer, Llanuwchllyn and the surrounding areas for help to keep plans on track to extend the railway to Bala. Anyone else who sympathises with the railway’s position is also asked to help.
Bala Lake Railway told the Cambrian News they have spent over 10 years and more than £1.4 million developing a plan to extend the railway to Bala.
The railway takes visitors and locals from Llanuwchllyn to Bala Penybont, which is a little distance from Bala itself. Although some of the visitors then walk into town, many return on the same train and the businesses in the high street do not benefit, railway staff say.
“We also take those who catch the train in Penybont away from Bala and therefore fewer are likely to visit the town,” a railway spokesperson explained.
“We want Bala to benefit as much as possible from by the visitors who come to the area to travel on the trains.”
According to the railway company, the number of passengers it carries has increased by over 70 per cent since 2014, leading to increased parking problems on the B4403 at Penybont.
“To try to alleviate this, we promote the journeys starting at Llanuwchllyn, which then leads to increased traffic through the village,” the spokesperson added.
“The purpose of the extension is to get passengers as close as possible to Bala’s high street, with the least impact on the environment, so that shops and eating places in town can benefit.
“The station site is right opposite a large car park, which even in the middle of August is three-quarters empty, so there will be plenty of appropriate places for visitors to park. This in turn will solve the parking issue on the B4403 in Penybont, and by advertising the journeys starting from Bala instead of Llanuwchllyn, will ease the traffic through the village.
“As a consequence, for a project of this kind it has unprecedented support from Liz Saville-Roberts MP, Mabon ap Gwynfor MS, Gwynedd Council, and councillors, town and village councils as well as the people of Bala generally.
“The application is about to be decided by Snowdonia National Park’s Planning Committee on 19 April, but planning Officers are currently recommending refusal to the committee. The main issue is the level of phosphate in the River Dee, not in the vicinity of Bala, but on the stretch of the river between Corwen and Chirk.
"The argument being used is that the extension will (naturally) attract more people to the area to see and travel on the train which in turn will lead to an increase in the phosphate in the Dee (through additional sewage). As Welsh Water does not have substantive plans to add a phosphate removal plant to the waste water treatment plant in Bala, any additional phosphate is not acceptable, and so the extension is in danger of being refused, but not for reasons to do with the extension itself.
“There is not much we can now do about the phosphate problem. We have tried and suggested several ways to reduce the impact but none of these have been acceptable. We understand that, as this problem affects all types of developments throughout Wales, solutions are likely to materialise in the next year or two. So if the plan were to receive permission, by the time the extension is built and ready to open, the problem in all probability will have been resolved. And we are happy to give assurances or agree to conditions not to open the extension until an acceptable solution is reached.
“On the other hand, if the plan is rejected, we will probably have to start all over again with enormous additional expenditure, and lose the opportunity to start on the building work for several more years. It has taken enormous effort to raise the funds in the first place, and we may not be in a position to raise the money all over again for another application.”
The railway would like supporters of their plan to write the park authority to encourage them to consider all the benefits of the application, or to postpone their decision. The link to write to them is: https://planning.snowdonia-npa.gov.uk/swiftlg_snpa/apas/run/wphmakerep.displayURL?ApnID=NP5/53/576.
“Bala Lake Railway is a not for profit company, so profits are invested back into the railway and by employing local people. By opening the extension the railway will create additional jobs in Bala for local people,” the spokesperson added.
The railway contributed £300,000 to National Resources Wales when they were doing the upgrade to the flood defences for the additional engineering work needed to lay the railway once planning permission is granted.
A spokesperson for the Snowdonia National Park Authority said: "We’re unable to comment on this case until it has been discussed by the Planning and Access Committee next Wednesday. We will be issuing a formal statement once the committee has reached a conclusion on the matter."