All steamed up – model railway owner on move

Keith Southwell Keith Southwell

Monday, April 14, 2014
9:59 AM

The model railway, gift shop and carriage café will be lost to the town and could move 100 miles to Cornwall - because it doesn’t fit in with the district council’s seafront vision.

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Exmouth’s 43-year-old model railway is owned by train enthusiast Keith Southwell, who fell in love with the attraction as an 11-year-old boy working his first Saturday job.

But despite attracting 15,000 visitors a year, this year is likely to be Keith’s last in Exmouth.

Seafront traders will see their district council leases expire at the end of this year.

And now developers are being sought to regenerate the 9.3-acre Queen’s Drive leisure area.

Keith and his wife, Sara, have purchased The Lappa Valley Steam Railway and Leisure Park, a narrow gauge railway near Newlyn East in Cornwall.

And with the addition of the carriage and model railway, Exmouth’s loss will be Cornwall’s gain.

He said: “We had been looking for an additional tourist-railway-related business as a long-term project, as we were aware that we would have to move. We were very lucky that the opportunity to purchase the Lappa Valley became available so soon.

“It is very unfortunate that East Devon District Council is choosing to demolish the building (model railway) that housed the Home Guard during the war years, followed by the model railway for the past 40 years.

“But that is beyond our control and they obviously believe that this much-loved attraction is outdated and no longer attractive to visitors.”

He said he wanted to preserve the model railway ‘in some way’ and added: “We will undoubtedly move parts of it to Cornwall, as and when we are asked to vacate the building and the seafront development gets under way. So far we have had no indication when this is likely to take place. The railway carriage will also go to Cornwall.”

He said his relationship with EDDC was of mutual respect and he vowed to try to keep the seafront alive and trading for as long as possible.

He added: “We all know the long-standing building works along the front have done nothing to help Exmouth or the seafront traders in the past few years.

“I have no intention of leaving the seafront or Exmouth until the very last moment!”

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