A town's hopes of seeing its rail link to the coast rebuilt have received a major boost.

East Sussex County Council has committed to keeping the route of the disused Uckfield to Lewes railway clear from development and Network Rail has confirmed it has been involved in discussions about the project.

Council transport chief Bob Wilkins pledged at an Uckfield Town Council meeting that any traffic schemes implemented in the town would not impinge on land earmarked for the railway plans. Residents had feared talk of new roads in the town centre would scupper the project.

Campaigners who have been fighting for the reopening of the line, which was axed in 1969, said they were delighted by the news.

Town councillor Duncan Bennett said: "That railway line is vital to this town. I strongly believe it is the primary subject when it comes to the regeneration of Uckfield."

Moves towards a reopening of the nine-mile stretch have gathered pace in the past two years.

Many view the line as a way of prompting investment in Uckfield and Crowborough and their surrounding areas as well as providing an alternative route for services on the overcrowded London to Brighton mainline.

Train operator Southern has said it would be happy to run services on the route but could not fund reconstruction.

Intermodality, an independent firm, has carried out feasibility studies on the line and believes it could carry out the project with private backing.

Late last year East Sussex council invited tenders for the next stage of assessment of the line and has received interest from major firms including Amey and Mott MacDonald.

Network Rail, which has been involved in discussions with the county council over several issues, said it was considering the proposals.

A spokesman said: "Network Rail is always keen to listen to any proposals from developers and if there was a strong business case and passenger demand for restoring disused lines, such as between Lewes and Uckfield, we are willing to listen.

"We are aware studies have been done in the past looking at this particular line, but we are yet to receive any formal application or proposals."

Brian Hart, director of the Wealden Line campaign, said the developments were good news but that campaigners were still wary the road plans could involve using the disused station site in Uckfield High Street.

He said the land was vital for developing a new station suitable for a rebuilt railway.

Mr Hart said: "What we would like to see is a really imaginative development which could satisfy local interests, yet preserve the important regional role of the new rail link between London and the South Coast. We don't want a single-track pinch-point at Uckfield, nor should the rail project be compromised by what is, after all, basically a local road scheme."