Shortly after a victory in Cambridgeshire that resulted in five level crossings being saved, the Ramblers are celebrating after saving a further eleven important level crossing public rights of way from permanent closure in Suffolk.
Under the Transport and Works Act 1992, Network Rail applied for the closure of 22 public crossings across Suffolk. Although the Ramblers found some of the proposals acceptable, plans to close 11 key routes were not. At the resulting public inquiry – which ran from February to May 2018 – the Ramblers argued against the closures for several reasons including concerns over walker safety and the negative impact on people who walk for health reasons.
Following a campaign led by Suffolk Ramblers, paths in Higham, Newmarket, Great Barton, Thurston, Elmswell, Bacton, Finningham, Needham Market, Wickham Skeith, Bentley, Wherstead, Brantham and Gislingham have now been saved.
The public inquiry found in favour of keeping a total of 13 routes open after members of the public, and organisations such as the Ramblers, the county council, a district council and parish councils, made a strong case for their retention. The presiding Inspector was particularly concerned that closing some of these routes would lead to people using cars instead of walking for everyday journeys.
Weatherby Crossing, Newmarket
One of the paths saved following objections from the Ramblers was the Weatherby crossing in Newmarket. In addition to the Ramblers, objectors included Matt Hancock MP, Cambridgeshire County Council, Forest Heath District Council, Newmarket Town Council, and the Newmarket Ladies Open Door Forum. Arguments were made that the closure of these routes would impact on people travelling to and from work, school age children, cyclists, and residents going shopping – as well as those to the football ground and allotments. The alternative route was nearly a kilometre long, on ordinary roads, and would mean far longer journey times; and was not particularly safe. A camera provided evidence of the importance of this crossing by picking up 3595 instances of use over just nine days.
Mutton Hall Crossing, Wetherden
The Ramblers objected to the closure of the Mutton Hall crossing at Wetherden. Had this route been closed, users would have to use a dangerously narrow road-bridge with no footway, no refuge, and poor sightlines. The Secretary of State agreed that this would pose a significant risk to pedestrian safety.
Footpath 13, Bacton and Sea Crossing, Brantham
Users of footpath 13 would have seen two sections closed. One at Bacton and another at the Sea Wall in Brantham. In Bacton, the route would have been diverted through the road-underpass which often flooded. The Secretary of State upheld the objection.
Another proposal defeated was the closure of the Sea Wall crossing at Brantham, which carries footpath 13 over it. Much used by birdwatchers, it has a special quality providing a sudden and almost unexpected panorama when climbing the steps of the River Stour (pictured). The diversion would remove this and compromise the sense of wilderness. The Secretary of State agreed that this was not a suitable replacement.
A total of 13 routes have been saved – including 11 of specifically opposed by the Ramblers.
Jim Richards, Footpath Secretary for Suffolk Ramblers, was delighted with the decision and said:
“Common sense has prevailed. The Secretary of State has appreciated the value of the path network both for everyday journeys and for recreational and health use. We and others greatly value these routes, for differing reasons – Weatherby crossing at Newmarket is in use all the time for routine journeys, while the Brampton Sea Wall path gives an unparalleled sense of remoteness and connection with nature.
"They all have their purpose and we’re glad they’ve been kept. Our path volunteers put many, many hours into these objections with site visits, reports, preparation of evidence, attendance and appearances at the Public Inquiry. Railways are a very important part of our national transport infrastructure but the paths were there first. Proper provision should be made for any dangers that come in their way – not just to move them – often onto roads that can be equally or more dangerous”.
Another decision on level crossings across Essex that the Ramblers have been campaigning to save is expected shortly.