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Historic pre-stressed concrete structure faces demolition

One of the UK’s first prestressed concrete structures faces demolition following the closure of a historic light railway in Kent, it was revealed this week.

The Sittingbourne and Kemsley light railway, which is listed by the ICE as historically valuable, is due to close on 26 December and its prestressed concrete viaduct will be destroyed unless parts of the land can be protected from redevelopment into a shopping centre.

Paul Best, who acts as spokesperson for the railway, said: "The railway has been running for more than 100 years, and we have always had a rolling monthly contract, but we have been told we have to be out by the end of January."

The railway was built in 1867 by publishing magnate Edward Lloyd, to supply his businesses with paper from the Sittingbourne Mill, and runs for 5.6km.

It was upgraded to steam power from horse-drawn carriages in 1905. Closed as a working line in 1969, the heritage railway has been running since 1970.

The mill is now owned by Finnish paper company M-Real but it ceased operations in January 2007. The firm was initially supportive of the railway, a registered charity, and allowed it to continue running. However, M-Real now wishes to sell the site for redevelopment.

Best added that the railway will not be the only loss if the line is dismantled. "The first kilometre is on a concrete viaduct, built in the 1920s, and was one of the first prestressed concrete structures in the UK," he said.

The railway is now looking for ways to have this viaduct listed, which would prevent its demolition, and so save the railway. "Swale Borough Council is backing us, and our local MP, Derek Wyatt has written to M-Real’s vice president, who replied that he would not talk to more than one party," said Best.

A pumping station built by Brunel was saved in similar circumstances in March, following intervention by TV presenter Jeremy Clarkson. It was due to be demolished, but received a 2* listing at the 11th hour

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