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Trust defiant in rail centre row


Trust defiant in rail centre row

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Sentinel at : http://www.thisisstaffordshire.co.uk/story-13910150-detail/story.html

VOLUNTEERS who run a railway heritage attraction are vowing to stay there for the next 30 years, despite the site's lease being put up for sale.

More than 100 people, from former train drivers to social historians, give up their spare time to keep Crewe Heritage Centre, off Vernon Way, alive.

It is dedicated to celebrating the town's rich links to transport and other industries and includes restored signal boxes, a miniature steam-powered railway, and a prototype for the first tilting train.

But now the enthusiasts are locked in a dispute with Cheshire East Council, which plans to offer a 125-year 'head' lease on the open market after accusing them of failing to deliver a first-class visitor attraction.

That would mean overall contractual responsibility would be given to one identifiable head lessee.

The deal for the building which houses the centre will include a restrictive covenant, ensuring the site is preserved for rail heritage, and will also link with the wider regeneration of the town.

Trustees fear it will be snapped up by ex-pop impresario Pete Waterman, who already operates his maintenance firm, London and North Western Railway Heritage Company, from the same complex.

He used to be involved in running the centre.

Volunteer Peter Barnard, of Crewe Heritage Trust, said the group has its own plans to transform the site and is applying for £988,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Those proposals include dividing the main hall, so visitors could view exhibits on one side and stand on a mezzanine floor to see work being done on trains on the other side.

There would also be display areas, including one for Bentley and Rolls-Royce cars, education facilities, as well as better lighting and security.

Mr Barnard, from Crewe, said: "I designed and built the centre in the mid-1980s. That's why I don't want to see it fail."

The group wants to stop the council selling the new 125-year lease.

But as a fall-back measure, it has also put in a bid for this lease.

Trustee Michael Ratcliff claims whoever has the lease won't be able to evict them as they still have 30 years left on their original lease.

He added: "Providing we don't break the terms of it, nobody can get us out."

Seventy-year-old volunteer David Harrison, from Sydney, Crewe, is an ex-train driver with 45 years' railway experience.

He said: "It doesn't matter who has the lease, as long as the centre stays open."

Councillor Jamie Macrae, cabinet member for prosperity, said the authority spent 18 months exploring a "viable way forward".

But he added: "The current visitor offer at the Crewe Heritage Centre is poor and doesn't reflect the wider ambitions of the town, nor adequately represent the proud industrial rail heritage."

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