Newmarket campaigners delight as they come one step closer to saving town's much used Weatherby Crossing
Campaigners fighting to keep a vital rail crossing which connects two halves of Newmarket are celebrating their latest victory over Network Rail after the route was named a right of way.
The Weatherby Crossing, which joins Granary Road and Cricket Field Road, has been declared a restricted byway by planning inspector Mark Yates, siding with Newmarket Town Council’s case that it has always been a route.
Dr Rachel Wood, who has been at the forefront of the campaign to save the much-used crossing and delved through archive material, including historic issues of the Newmarket Journal, said of the decision: “We have taken a massive, massive leap forward.”
Network Rail has been trying to close the crossing since at least 2016, and has now lost two inquiries looking at the future of the crossing. It has claimed the crossing is unsafe and that the alternative route it had provided via New Cheveley Road was only a ‘small inconvenience’.
This second inquiry, looking into whether it was a public right of way, was launched following an application by town resident Michael Smy to add the route to the map, a decision which was then backed by Suffolk County Council.
Dr Wood described the Planning Inspectorate’s decision as a ‘hugely important decision’ for the town, but warned it wasn’t quite over yet.
“We can celebrate the inspector has declared it’s a highway but we can’t have our big celebration yet, it’s not quite finalised,” she said.
“It’s possible Network Rail will appeal against it and take it further, but it’s now out of Newmarket’s hands.”
Because Mr Yates has said it should be classified as a restricted byway rather than a footpath, as originally set out by the county, the order will have to be re-advertised.
The final cost to Newmarket Town Council to keep the crossing open has climbed to more than £40,000. Despite contributions from West Suffolk Council and Cheveley Parish Council, East Cambridgeshire District Council and Suffolk County Council have not stumped up any cash towards legal fees.
Witnesses were a vital part of the evidence, said Mr Yates, with some 32 people providing statements to the inquiry and six giving oral evidence about the crossing, including that of Patricia Collins and Terry Cummins.
“The witness statements provide personal evidence of use, dating back to the 1930s, and I place significant reliance on this evidence,” he said.
“It is apparent that the stated use was for a variety of purposes involving locations on both sides of the railway and I was able to view a number of these during my site visits.”
Dr Wood hailed residents’ part in the inquiry as an example of a ‘community effort’ to save the much-used link.
And evidence dating back to the early 19th century, including railway documents, played part in the decision to keep the route a public right of way. “I place significant weight on the 1845 railway documents, which are supportive of the route being a highway prior to the construction of the railway,” the inspector said.
Mr Yates said, in light of evidence given, the manning of the crossing by the railway ‘could provide some support for the route having public status’.
“I find on balance that the evidence as a whole is supportive of the claimed route having been dedicated as a highway prior to the construction of the railway,” he ruled.
He said there was nothing to suggest the crossing had gates before the railway was built, and that the restricted byway should have a recorded width of 30 feet.