PROPOSALS to reopen a Hampshire railway line which closed more than half a century ago have taken another step forward.

Senior members of Hampshire County Council have agreed that the authority should continue to explore the option of restoring passenger services on the Totton to Hythe line.

The county council is set to take part in around around of joint working with the Department for Transport (DfT) and Network Rail.

The decision to undertake further feasibility work follows a successful bid for £50,000 from the Department’s Restoring Your Railway fund and the subsequent submission of an outline business case the DfT last month.

Previous calls to reopen the line made little progress, with critics claiming there was insufficient demand.

Since then Fawley Waterside has been given planning permission to build demolish the former Fawley power station and build 1,500 homes on the site. Other sites in the area are also due to be used for housing.

Cllr Rob Humby, the county council's executive member for economy, transport and environment, said: "The time is now right for a further detailed look at its potential.

"This will include taking account of the major development proposals set out in the New Forest District Local Plan, anticipated significant employment growth in the area, as identified in the ‘Waterside Vision’, and the most recent announcement about the Solent Freeport."

Reopening the line could result in fewer people using the A326 between Hythe and Southampton.

Cllr Humby cited the county council's commitment to supporting the battle against climate change, plus schemes that help Hampshire residents to live safe, healthy and independent lives by enhancing air quality or improving walking and cycling provision.

"We also recognise the changes that are likely to arise in how people live, work and travel, as we recover from the Covid-19 pandemic," he said.

A proposal to continue exploring the possibility of reopening the line was approved at a meeting of the county council’s cabinet.

Rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris said: “It’s hugely encouraging to see local campaigns being invigorated and inspired to make the case for their local railways.

“Our Restoring your Railway fund is designed to kickstart brilliant proposals like this, and our focus is backing projects with the potential to reconnect communities, boost business and opportunity, and level up our country.”

The line was a victim of the Beeching cuts in the 1960s.

Campaigners want passenger services to run between Totton and a point south of Hythe, close to the original Hardley Halt.

Options to be assessed include new stations called Hythe Town and Hythe and Fawley Parkway, with the former station at Marchwood being upgraded.