BOSSES at a caravan park want retrospective planning permission for unauthorised work on part of an old railway route by a landmark viaduct, where campaigners hope to create a new path and cycleway between the Ribble Valley, Hyndburn and Burnley.

The work has raised concerns about the loss of trees and the impact on Martholme Viaduct and hopes for a new ‘greenway’ project on the former Great Harwood loop line.

Bridge Heywood Caravan Park in Read wants retrospective change-of-use permission from Ribble Valley Council for minor engineering work and landscaping to a section of railway track bed and embankment near the viaduct and the River Calder. It wants permission for a recreation area with benches, picnic tables and a nature trail.

In a separate development last week, Ribble Valley councillors unanimously backed a call to fully reopen the old viaduct as part of the Martholme Greenway path and cycle project.

There are some missing route links but councillors asked Ribble Valley Council to support the greenway ambition. The county council is holding public consultations this month on walking and cycle route infrastructure.

The greenway project is also subject to future external funds and the reasonable accommodation of any affected land owners’ concerns.

But Bridge Heywood Caravan Park submitted its retrospective application in December.

A  report to Ribble Valley councillors for Thursday's development control meeting states: “The application relates to 2.5 hectares of land that incorporates former railway embankments for the Great Harwood loop of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway.

“The site has areas of raised embankments with areas of significant tree presence bounding it to the north, at its western extents, and to the north and south at its eastern extents. The site is currently being used as an informal recreational area for patrons. The western extents adjoins the Grade II Martholme Viaduct.”

The  report says the viaduct was built in the 1870s with 10 arches, 65ft high. The rail line closed in 1957.

The caravan park application states the works involved digging a channel and creating an earth mound near the viaduct, to avoid trespass, together with benches, picnic tables and the re-seeding of areas with wild flowers. The earth mound screens a metal security fence on the viaduct.

More than 20 letters have been sent to the council. Concerns include the closeness of the work to the old viaduct and the loss of mature trees.

Read Parish Council has objected stating: “In the planning application it is stated that no trees were on the site. However it appears multiple mature trees (70 to 80 years-plus) have been removed. The removed woodland formed part of a natural ecosystem with a wealth of bio-diversity and wildlife, which has seen major impact from the development.”

It adds: “The ditch and bund block access to the viaduct, which is necessary for Railway Paths to perform viaduct maintenance and ensure safety.  This provides no additional protection from trespass, as there is already a large metal fence. The ditch also holds potential to cause damage to the viaduct.”

In other comments, Transport campaign group Sustrans has asked that the work does not impact on hopes for the Martholme Greenway

Borough planning officers say they would have recommended refusal, if the application had been submitted before the work was done.

But given the work has been done they are recommending conditional approval. Suggested conditions include no more seating, structures, earth work or lighting without first getting permission. Also recommended is an approved planting scheme. The trees removed were not formally protected.

Officers believe the earth mound does not visually harm the viaduct area and there is ‘no direct significant conflict’ with policies to protect heritage assets and settings.

County engineers initially want assurances the work would not destabilise the viaduct but this is no longer needed. It believes the work done is unlikely to harm the viaduct.