Network Rail under fire from Cambridgeshire County Council over proposed level crossing closures in East Cambs and Fens
PUBLISHED: 12:54 28 November 2016 | UPDATED: 12:54 28 November 2016
The county council has accused Network Rail of trying to push through level crossing closures in East Cambridgeshire and the Fens “without due regard to the impact on the highway network”.
In a tough stance to be presented to the county council highways and community infrastructure committee, councillors will be asked to oppose those closures they feel will threaten road safety.
Assets manager Camilla Rhodes says in her report to the committee that objections should be raised to those closures which do not offer a safe alternative, those that threaten rights of way and access to green space and those that offer “increase in liability” to the highways authority.
Network Rail is also criticised for using a technical device for consultation that has forced the county council to spend £25,000 (400 man hours) tackling the closures.
And Network Rail faces criticism from the county council “for not working truly in partnership and is pursuing its own agenda of reducing its asset liability” without regard to users.
The council also criticises the Network Rail Diversity Impact Assessment Scoping Report which they claim is “fundamentally flawed in respects of its duties under the Equalities Act 2010”.
The county says Network Rail has failed to adequately assess the impact of the closures and the alternative routes on users, communities and vulnerable groups.
A public inquiry is now almost certain to decide which, if any, closures can go ahead or indeed if all can go ahead.
The county council says five footpath crossings planned for closure in Ely give direct access to the countryside and to the river and these could have significant implications.
In Soham new housing is planned in the area near the proposed closure of footpaths, says Ms Rhodes, and at Littleport local heart watch walking groups user groups walk along routes threatened with closure.
“Solutions must recognise the importance of these paths in engendering the physical and mental well being of the local community through access to the wider network and areas of common land,” she says.
In a separate report she takes exception to Network Rail terminology and of some assumptions she says are made about use of public rights of ways.
“Some of the crossings are stated as being ‘rarely used’” she says. “This needs to be understood in the context of a rural environment whereby the crossing may only be used by a few people but they may be the only leisure route in the vicinity and therefore form an important local asset. ‘Rarely used’ should not be confused with ‘unimportant’”.
Committee chairman MacMcGuire said Network Rail was wrong to describe Poplar Drove, Littleport, as a private road.
“This is incorrect,” he said. “It is recorded as a pubic road and so discussions need to take place with regard to any potential downgrading of status with statutory consultees.”
He has told Network Rail they must have “sound justification for any diminution of the highway network on grounds of safety and efficiency”.
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