NETWORK RAIL says it may take legal action against a firm which wants to build new houses on a cliff near Dawlish.
There are concerns that the Great Western Main Line could be damaged if the cliff is destablised by the construction of 31 retirement homes at Old Teignmouth Road.
The developer, Pegasus Life, has described its scheme as an 'excellent and appropriate concept for this wonderful location', and council officers are recommending that planning permission should be given.
But Network Rail has warned Teignbridge council that the project could have serious implications for the vulnerable railway which runs along the foot of the cliff, parts of which were destroyed by winter storms last year.
The bad weather in February caused so much damage along the sea wall at Dawlish that the line could not be reopened until early April. Business groups in the south west said the lack of a rail link to Plymouth and Cornwall for several weeks damaged the regional economy. They are calling for up to £7 billion to be invested in the region's railways, including more resilient infrastructure.
After the storms last winter, engineers not only repaired 80m of devastated sea wall at Dawlish itself but also carried out a related project to stablise a section of cliff at Teignmouth.
Network Rail told Teignbridge council: "We have serious concerns that the proposal if permitted could destabilise the cliff. The area concerned has a high profile of cliff failures and associated rock stabilisation works having to be carried out.
"You should recall we recently had to shut the main line railway as a result of damage to the sea wall caused by storms. Before we were able to reopen the railway we also had carefully controlled sea cliff collapses and therefore we know there are potential issues in this locality.
"Network Rail will consider any such failure and damage as an act of nuisance and shall take all necessary action to seek redress for the damage caused and any financial penalties for closure of the railway."
Pegasus Life chief executive Howard Phillips defended the plan. He said: "We are committed to creating stunning homes that sit in harmony with their surroundings. There was extensive consultation with the local community and a high level of support was received.
"We will build the new homes in sensitive appreciation of the special landscape, including a 10m exclusion zone from development by the cliffs and would only proceed when Network Rail have the assurances they need."
The planning committee of Teignbridge council is to consider the application on 13 January.