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Newmarket: Planning inspector upholds decision to keep Weatherby railway foot crossing open

Opponents of Network Rail’s plans to close Newmarket’s much-used Weatherby railway foot crossing are celebrating after a planning inspector upheld his previous decision that it should remain open.

Inspector Mark Yates this week issued a Final Order in favour of residents and town, district and county councils who had united in opposition to the closure, leaving Network Rail with only recourse to the High Court if they decide to pursue their case.

The company had been trying to close the crossing, which links two sides of the town, since 2016, initially on the grounds of safety, but when they were unable to show that there was a reasonable alternative route for pedestrians at the first public inquiry in 2020, Mr Yates ruled against them.

The disputed Weatherby crossing in Newmarket
The disputed Weatherby crossing in Newmarket

“The question that arose next was whether the crossing was a public right of way because none had been recorded at that time,” said resident Michael Smy, who led opposition to the closure from the start.

“I sent off an application to Suffolk County Council to establish a right of way which they recorded so Network Rail then objected to that, leading to a second inquiry which came in three parts,” said Mr Smy.

At the end of Part One, Mr Yates ruled there was a public right of way with a width of 30 feet. Following another objection from Network Rail, Part Two saw a second ruling in favour of their opponents, but with a reduction in width to 14 feet.

This week, in his Final Order, Mr Yates upheld his previous decision but said the crossing should be designated a Restricted Byway rather than a footpath meaning it can be used by cyclists and potentially motorcyclists and horse riders, and not just pedestrians as it would be if it remained a footpath.

“I am pleased by the Inspector’s decision, which confirms the public’s right of way over the crossing. The people of Newmarket have known this for years and now Network Rail does too,” said Mr Smy.

“We owe huge thanks to Newmarket Town Council for its financial and administrative support, to Dr Rachel Wood for her research and coordination of the evidence, to Ros Emrys-Roberts, our expert witness, and to our barrister Merrow Golden.

”In the euphoria of the moment, let us not forget the stamina and stoicism of Mr Yates over the course of all three inquiries,” added Mr Smy.

A Network Rail spokesperson said: “We have received the Planning Inspectorate’s decision and will now consider our next steps. Our top priority at level crossings and on the wider railway is to keep everyone safe.”