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Proposals for New Section of Canal May Prevent Reopening Of Disused Railway Line

Published on: 19 Nov, 2020
Updated on: 19 Nov, 2020

By David Rose

The Wey & Arun Canal Trust has submitted planning applications to create 1,000 yards of new canal between Shalford and Bramley.

The Downs Link path from the A281 at Shalford, looking in the direction of Bramley.

But it is projected to be along a section of the popular Downs Link path, on the trackbed of the former Guildford to Horsham railway line.

Written objections to the two planning applications, one with Guildford Borough Council and the other with Waverley Borough Council, fear the new section of canal will cause risk of flooding to nearby properties, damage to the environment with removal of trees and wildlife habitat, and perhaps of most concern will prevent any future reopening of the railway line.

Part of the existing canal viewed from the bridge over it on the A281 at Shalford.

The application (Ref: 20/P/01752) lodged with Guildford Borough Council is for land between Gun’s Mouth Island at Shalford to Gosden Meadow, Tannery Lane in Bramley. The application seeks to include a new lock and bridges.

While the application lodged with Waverley Borough Council (Ref: WA/2020/0004) concerns land at Rushett Common in Bramley, for the “erection of new bridges, construction of new canal cut, new footpaths and landscaping”.

The Wey & Arun Junction Canal, from the River Wey at Shalford to the River Arun at Pallingham in West Sussex was opened in 1816. It was 23 miles in length and was formally closed in 1871.

Never hugely profitable, a large factor in its demise was undoubtedly the opening of the railway line from Guildford to Horsham via Cranleigh in 1865.

Operated by the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway, then Southern Railway and then British Railways, it was a victim of the 1960s “Beeching cuts” that saw many railway lines and stations closed as part of British Railways Board’s plan to increase the efficiency of the rail network. The report was written by physicist and engineer Richard Beeching, hence the term “Beeching cuts”.

A train from Guildford to Horsham enters the branch line at Peasmarsh Junction signal box in about 1965. Picture by David Salmon, Geoff Burch collection.

The line closed in June 1965, the track soon removed, and the Downs Link, that is classified as a bridleway, was opened in 1984. It is available to walkers, horse riders and cyclists.

However, calls to reopen the railway line by groups and individuals occur every few years. An example being the English Regional Transport Association who gave support to the idea in 2018. See our previous story. 

Ever-increasing traffic on the busy A281 between Guildford and Cranleigh is often sited as a major reason to bring back the trains. Ideas include a light railway and incorporation of the Downs Link path.

Part of the Downs Link path at about the location the Wey & Arun Canal Society has submitted plans to cut a new section of canal.

A statement issued by the Wey & Arun Canal Trust to The Guildford Dragon NEWS on its planning applications, reads: “The Downs Link (the former Guildford to Horsham trackbed) is an amenity hugely valued by the many walkers, cyclists and horse riders who use it and the Wey & Arun Canal is committed to doing everything possible to make sure that our plans preserve and enhance the route.

“Our plan to add 1,000 yards of new canal in the Bramley area will have many benefits, not only in terms of wildlife biodiversity but in improved paths and views for those who use the former railway track. The path will remain open throughout construction and any re-routing will only add interest to the Downs Link.

“If the railway was re-established on its original route then it would be very difficult to preserve the Downs Link and continue its use as leisure amenity.

Viewing platform just off the Downs Link path close to the Shalford end that overlooks the Wey & Arun Canal’s Society’s Hunt Nature Park.

“However, the canal and railway plans are not incompatible. The canal plan preserves the Downs Link and therefore at some future time the Downs Link could revert to its original use as a railway; the canal plans will not prevent re-establishment of the railway.

Signboard on the viewing platform. Click to enlarge in a new window.

“We recognise there is a lot of support and some good arguments for re-establishing the railway, although it seems that the plans would face some tough challenges including a very high cost and opposition from local residents.”

The Wey & Arun Canal Society was formed in 1970 by a few enthusiastic people in a bid to try to restore the canal. In 1973 the society was re-formed as the Wey & Arun Canal Trust Limited, a charitable trust company.

The trust’s aim is to “achieve the restoration, as a public amenity, of the navigable link between the Rivers Wey and Arun, and so recreate the direct water link between London and the South Coast”.

The Hunt Nature Park borders the Cranleigh Waters stream.

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test 8 Responses to Proposals for New Section of Canal May Prevent Reopening Of Disused Railway Line

  1. John Green Reply

    November 19, 2020 at 7:03 pm

    Great news. I would love to see the canal open again with pleasure craft.

  2. Ian Williams Reply

    November 20, 2020 at 4:38 pm

    No provision has been made for transport links to Guildford, the A3 or the M3 for the to be constructed on Dunsfold Airfield nor the ill-thought-out housing estate on Milford Hospital site. So it is more necessary than ever to re-establish the railway line.

    I’m afraid vanity projects such as this canal and similarly, the ludicrous tunnel at Stonehenge as a substitute for less expensive dualling of the A303, have no place in the UK more than ever dependent on adequate transportation links, especially now we are broke.

    • John Lomas Reply

      November 20, 2020 at 9:59 pm

      Is it not possible to align the canal so that the towpath serves as that stretch of the Downs Link and still leave sufficient space for the railway to run alongside it?

    • John Yeomans Reply

      November 26, 2020 at 4:21 pm

      Easy to say this. But the Guildford to Cranleigh railway line did not go to Dunsfold, nor even close to Milford Hospital. Yes, transport links to Guildford are very important but they have little connection with the use of the 1,000-yard Downslink for a canal and/or a railway. That’s a different problem.

      And anyway, as the application says, a canal and a railway through that 1,000-yard link together could be compatible.

      • Frank Phillipson Reply

        November 26, 2020 at 10:38 pm

        It would not be difficult in engineering terms to continue the railway behind Stockland Square along its former trackbed south of Cranleigh and then on a new alignment swing south-west into the Dunsfold airfield site. In any case, the railway line does not have to directly serve every individual development as long as there are reasonable routes available to get to the stations.

        The proposed railway would not serve the Milford Hospital development with nearby Milford station on the Portsmouth line performing this function.

        The Downslink path would form an essential shared part of a revived railway line that would serve the increasingly populated Cranleigh area. It would also provide a realistic way of reducing the existing and future road traffic on the heavily used A281 between Cranleigh and Shalford.

        The planning application is wrong in saying that the canal and railway could be compatible together through the 1,000-yard link. The planning application drawings show the canal and path taking over the whole former railway corridor through Bramley and the only way a railway could be provided would be on an elevated deck over and along the proposed canal.

  3. Brenda Bowles Reply

    November 20, 2020 at 4:45 pm

    A wonderful way for families to see lots of new scenes in Guildford, that were not open to the public before.

  4. Gareth Hoskins Reply

    November 20, 2020 at 6:00 pm

    This is a great idea which will add to the beauty of the area and enhance its amenities.

  5. Ben Paton Reply

    November 21, 2020 at 10:16 am

    It’s shortsighted to close the option of having a railway or a light railway or a bus on the old route.

    Why not put the new canal somewhere that keeps the options open?

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