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Anger at Suffolk County Council’s ‘betrayal’ over Newmarket railway crossing decision

Suffolk County Council has been accused of betraying the people of Newmarket after ignoring a ruling made by a planning inspector after years of wrangling over the future of a railway crossing which has cost the town more than £40,000.

In August last year, inspector Mark Yates issued a Final Order upholding his initial decision, made in 2020, that the Weatherby crossing, which links the two sides of Newmarket, was a right of way in the form of a restricted byway.

His inquiry followed an earlier one, chaired by Ian Jenkins, which saw off an attempt by Network Rail to get it closed for good.

Newmarket's controversial Weatherby rail foot crossing
Newmarket's controversial Weatherby rail foot crossing

After the second inquiry, he made a concession to Network Rail's operating concerns by reducing the crossing's width from 30 feet to 14 feet.

As a restricted byway, rather than a footpath, the crossing could be used by cyclists and potentially motor cyclists and horse riders and not only by pedestrians as it would be if it remained a footpath.

Suffolk County Council had joined Newmarket Town Council and West Suffolk Council to oppose Network Rail in the first public inquiry but declined to take part in the fight to have the crossing designated a public right of way, leaving the town council to foot the bill.

Now, Michael Smy, a leading member of the campaign to save the crossing and instrumental in having it declared a public right of way, has accused the county council of joining forces with Network Rail to ignore the inspector's decision that the crossing should be a restricted byway by issuing a temporary order, which was renewed at the end of last month reducing it to a footpath.

“Who knows what the county council's motivation is? We do know that they are keen to save themselves money,” said Mr Smy, who has seen an email from a council officer dated March 19 which stated that the council ‘does not intend to enforce the inspector's decision to accommodate a 4.2 metre wide restricted byway at the crossing’.

“I would like to know by what right they can override the interests of the citizens of Newmarket and how they can circumvent this order without any opposition,” said Mr Smy,

“Perhaps our county councillors and MP would like to tell us what steps they have taken, or intend to take, to safeguard our hard won rights over the crossing and, if they fail to do this, to recover the town council's legal expenses from Suffolk county council as some recompense for their great betrayal.”

A county council spokesman said they were aware of local concerns but could not comment at present.