Essex rail-crossing saved for walkers, riders and cyclists

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A planning inspector has ruled that Motts Lane crossing of the railway line at Witham, about 10 miles north-east of Chelmsford in Essex, must remain open. The crossing is a public bridleway for use by walkers, horse-riders and cyclists. Network Rail wanted to close the crossing on alleged grounds of safety and offered to provide a pedestrian bridge instead.

The Open Spaces Society, British Horse Society, CTC, East Anglia Farm Rides, Essex Bridleways Association, Essex Local Access Forum and Ramblers were among the objectors. The OSS and others argued that closure of the crossing would leave a dead end for horse-riders who would be forced to make long detours. The Ramblers argued that since there was no new bridge at present there would be no enforceable agreement for anyone to provide a bridge and that all the rights would be stopped up.

Because there were objections the matter was referred to the Planning Inspectorate. Inspector Helen Slade considered that the current risk was not ‘so overwhelming as to negate the remainder of the use which is acceptably safe and adequately controlled’. She felt that if the crossing was closed there could be ‘a greater risk of misuse, given the need demonstrated by the current levels of use’. The proposal did not include provision for a bridge and she felt that the ‘inconvenience to the public as a result of the intended stopping-up outweighs the issues of safety which have not been demonstrated to me to warrant the closure of the crossing entirely. She considered it to be ‘a very important crossing’.

Says our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook: ‘This is an excellent result. There was inadequate evidence of public risk in using the crossing and if it had been closed, walkers, riders and cyclists would have been forced to use a long, boring and potentially dangerous detour on busy roads, putting them at undoubtedly greater risk.’

A survey of people using the crossing on Tuesday 23 August 2011 from 11.01am to midnight showed 171 pedestrians and 59 cyclists. The inspector noted that this was during the holiday period and excluded the morning rush-hour, and said ‘this implies a very important crossing during normal working weeks’.

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