Cardiff Council has approved plans to extend Heath Park Model Railway – more than four years after proposals were first put forward Cardiff Model Engineering Society.
An extension to the miniature railway using public land in Heath Park was first proposed in 2007, but the plans came up against local opposition, and the council found the land had been designated as a King George V Field.
This meant it was protected by the charity Fields In Trust (FIT), and although the council was a trustee, it needed consent to dispose of the land.
Local residents also raised concerns that the extension – which would see a “figure of eight” circuit added to scrub land on the western side of the existing track – would lead to a loss of trees and impact on wildlife.
Objectors also said there would be a loss of open space because the Cardiff Model Engineering Society (CMES) only opens the railway to the public 13 times a year.
Campaigners were supported by two out of Heath’s three ward councillors, with Lyn Hudson and Ron Page expressing concern that approving the plans of a charitable organisation could open the council up to similar requests from others.
But the council’s executive business committee last week approved the disposal of the land for the extension by entering into a lease with CMES, and approved the extension itself in its role as a trustee of the land. This clears the way for a final decision to be made by FIT, and the council will now ask the charity to give its consent to the proposal.
Councillor Nigel Howells, executive member for sport, leisure and culture, said he was satisfied the proposals were in the best interests if Heath Park, deterring fly tipping and anti-social behaviour in an area he described as “low quality woodland and scrub”.
He said despite objections, there had been a petition containing 1,000 signatures in support of the development, pointing out the charity work of CMES and its popular public open days.
Cllr Howells added the extension would actually improve conservation in the area, with plans for a new pond which would create a habitat for the great crested newt, and the proposal would be “in the spirit” of the Trust.
But Conservative group leader, Coun David Williams, said he was concerned because the CMES was a “private club”, and Independent Rhiwbina member Adrian Robson said he would encourage the society to open their facilities to the public more often.
After the meeting, society chairman Mike Williams said that when trains are not running for their members, that area of the park will still be accessible to the public through gates, with only the track fenced off.
CEMS’ honorary secretary Don Norman added: “We are glad that at last it’s been released – it’s been a long time coming. We will develop it sympathetically for the nature and wildlife.
“[The extension] will provide extra runs for our customers and school visits so they can see the countryside in the park and see it safely.”
Mr Norman said that subject to FIT approval, they would expect to begin construction in early 2013 and it would take up to three years.
Independent Heath councillor Fenella Bowden said CEMS had put forward a comprehensive proposal.
She said: “One of the benefits that Heath Park will achieve is investment, and it’s investment I’m sure the parks department will find good use for.
“I was always very sad that it caused such polarised views. People who visit the model railway never go away unimpressed. They now have enormous potential to bring a positive lease of life to a really poor quality area of scrub land in that part of the park.”