Leighton Buzzard Narrow Gauge Railway has secured an early Christmas present after securing a new 250-year lease with Arnold White Estates, and also securing significant EU funding towards its extension project.
As part of its plans to extend operations beyond Stonehenge Works, the Leighton Buzzard Railway has been working closely with Arnold White Estates, owner of the sand quarries and much of the land on which the railway operates.
The result of these discussions is a new partnership that will deliver a new 250-year lease for the whole line, including the extension, an immediate cash injection and the promise of additional investment as and when the quarries are worked out and redeveloped.
The LEADER fund grant, worth £47,000, includes a £34,000 contribution towards the costs of the extension, plus a new coach and improvements to facilities at Stonehenge Works.
The LEADER fund is an EU program worth a total of £138m for funding of projects that create jobs, help businesses to grow and benefit the rural and tourism economy.
The Railway’s own appeal for funds for the £150,000 extension project has so far realised £57,000, well above the £24,000 of matched funding required under the LEADER bid this year, thanks in large part to a significant donation from a benefactor which has enabled the track required to be secured.
“However, the balance of over £59,000 still needs to be found.
Speaking about the LEADER bid, Executive Committee member Nick Burton said “The new lease with Arnold White Estates has secured the offer of LEADER funding, while the generosity our members has ensured that we can deliver our side of the financial commitment.
“We still have a lot of work to do to raise the balance of the funds we require, but we can now start work with confidence that the way ahead is clear and with enthusiasm for what the future holds for us.”
The news means that the Railway now has the green light to start work on the extension.
Chairman Terry Bendall said: “This is an historic moment for the Railway as the way forward is now clear.”
In a message to supporters he added: “Where exactly we go from here and when will be a matter of negotiation with our landlords AWE in the coming years, given their continuing sand extraction operations and property interests.
“The new lease we have signed with AWE will enable us to enjoy a much closer relationship and in depth dialogue than has been possible before, which hopefully will enable us to ensure our interests are protected as best they can be.”