Cambridgeshire Ramblers are celebrating after saving five important level crossing public rights of way from closure.
Network Rail applied for the closure of 25 public crossings across Cambridgeshire, in a draft order under the Transport and Works Act 1992. A public inquiry has now found in favour of keeping a number of the routes open after members of the public and organisations – including the Ramblers and Cambridgeshire County Council - objected to the closures.
Although the Ramblers found some of the proposals acceptable, five were not and their closure would have had a detrimental impact on walkers and the local community.
At the public inquiry – held in autumn 2017 and spring 2018 over 22 days – the Ramblers argued against the closures for a number of reasons including concerns over walker safety and the negative impact the proposals would have on disabled people.
The five routes that were saved were Footpath number 4, Harston; Byway 33 Downham at Furlong Drove Crossing; Leonards Crossing, Soham; Clayway Crossing, Littleport; and Byway 30 at Willow Row, Littleport.
- Footpath #4 – Harston
This Ramblers objected to the closure of footpath number 4 at Harston as it would take walkers off a pleasant country path, partly in woodland, with a poor replacement involving two sets of steps. This would make the path inconvenient, and even unusable for some.
Jill Tuffnell, Membership Secretary for Cambridge Ramblers, gave evidence at the inquiry, pointing out that it would also involve walking on roads with narrow verges. This would include the busy London–Cambridge main road which has poor sightlines and would need to be crossed – potentially meaning the new route was less safe than the current level crossing.
“We greatly value the section of path north of the railway line which runs through a tree-lined track and adjacent woodland, with many informal paths leading off it,” she told the Inspector, “Cambridgeshire has so little woodland open to walkers that every copse should be protected.”
South Cambridgeshire District Councillor Janet Lockwood said she did not see why “the residents of Harston should lose an important right of way to assist National Rail in asset reduction.” She used the way twice weekly, adding that “the rights of way in the area are popular with pedestrians, cyclists, dog walkers and joggers, many using this crossing regularly.”
Cambridgeshire County Council objected on the basis that rerouting mainly on a road “would have a significant detrimental impact on the recreational value of the footpath.” Cambridge Local Access Forum also placed an objection to the closure.
The Inspector agreed with the objectors and declared that “the proposed route is not a suitable and convenient alternative”. She recommended removal of this proposal from the order.
- Byway 33 Downham at Furlong Drove Crossing
The Ramblers objected to the closure of byway 33 Downham at Furlong Drove crossing, due to the special character of this historic route which forms part of the Hereward Way. This route could not be replaced by the alternatives and the diversions were unnaturally long and indirect. These would involve walking along a road without a pavement that is heavily used by HGVs, creating a completely different experience for walkers.
Cambridgeshire County Council commented on the uniqueness of this path, which includes ‘breath-taking views’ of Ely Cathedral, and argued that the proposal would have a significant impact on the path network and local community.
The Inspector recommended removal of this closure proposal from the order and reported that “the effect on existing users, taking particular account of the changes to a long-distance promoted route, would be significant and…would outweigh the benefits that may otherwise arise from the closure of the level crossing for National Rail.”
- Leonards Crossing, Soham
The closure of Leonards crossing at Soham was also opposed by the Ramblers as it would affect three footpaths.
The diversion would take users around three sides of a square on land liable to flooding and overgrowth. Part of it, in a low-lying clay field, was so unattractive that it is likely that some people would instead opt to use a road heavily used by HGVs. Jill Tuffnell’s objection explained that she’d been personally affected by this in the past as an HGV had completely taken up the alternative track, forcing her on to the narrow verge.
Cambridgeshire County Councillor Bill Hunt called the path closure “an act of vandalism”; and once more Cambridgeshire Local Access Forum also objected.
The Inspector was particularly concerned about Public Sector Equality Duty in relation to those with a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 – in this case people who used the way as part of a scheme of health walks. She recommended against this proposal.
- Clayway Crossing, Littleport
We objected to the closure of Clayway crossing, Littleport. Like the council, another objector, we deplored the loss of this direct urban–rural connecting route, which would remove the opportunity for short circular walks and sever connections with off-road routes. At least here the road alternative had pavements, though walking on them would be less pleasurable. The council supported our contention about short circular routes, this one taking people directly from town to river, via off-road paths. Evidence showed use for health-walks. We supported the council in their assertion that the value to locals of routes like this should not be underestimated. The Inspector recommended against this proposal.
- Byway 30 at Willow Row, Littleport
Finally, the Ramblers also objected to the closure of byway 30 at Willow Row, Littleport. The proposed alternative route would add 30 minutes to a walkers’ journey, a significant diversion from the current byway. The alternative crossing would also be subject to agricultural traffic displaced by another closure.
The Inspector found the effect on existing users, public and private, would be significant, and recommended against this proposal.
The Secretary of State for Transport has now taken on board the Inspector’s report and decided that 16 routes will be closed. However, objections from several groups including Cambridgeshire Ramblers means that a total of nine routes have been saved – including five important walking routes local Ramblers had campaigned to save. Ramblers volunteer Jill Tuffnell was delighted with the news and said: “Common sense has prevailed, and the Secretary of State has appreciated the value of the path network both for everyday journeys and for recreational and health use.”