Inquiry opens into Network Rail plan to close Newmarket's Weatherby crossing

Residents have said that if the crossing is closed, it would cut the town in half.
Residents have said that if the crossing is closed, it would cut the town in half.
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A plan to close a railway foot crossing in Newmarket would ‘cut the town in half’ an inquiry has been told by residents.

The town’s Weatherby crossing is one of 24 across Suffolk which Network Rail is proposing to close or downgrade, and which are being considered at a public inquiry which started in Bury St Edmunds on Tuesday and is scheduled to last five weeks.

Jacqueline Lean, counsel representing Network Rail, told the opening session of the hearing it wanted to create ‘a more efficient and reliable railway and improve the safety of railway users, level crossing users and staff’.

“Network Rail are looking to reduce the number of level crossings which is in alignment with the national policies,” she said.

But residents and local councillors have raised concerns that the Weatherby crossing is the only walkway linking the north side and south side of Newmarket.

In a document submitted as part of the inquiry, Ann Dunning, chairman of the Newmarket Ladies’ Open Door Club, said that a survey conducted by Network Rail found that 500 people used the crossing daily.

“We object to this closure because it is a much-needed pedestrian rail crossing for Newmarket people. This closure would cut the town in half. People use it for access to the town, shops, schools, allotments and football matches,” she said.

For Forest Heath District Council, barrister Merrow Golden said the closure of the crossing would have a negative impact on Newmarket residents and requested that inquiry inspector Ian Jenkins recommend it be removed from the closure order.

“Network Rail hasn’t justified the need to close the crossing in this manner and at this time. It fails to consider and balance the public interest in favour of keeping the crossing open. If the crossing is closed the impact on the community will be significant and it will be immediate,” she said.

Network Rail’s statement of case said that residents would have to take an alternative route, including Granary Road, New Cheveley Road and Cricket Field Road adding some 870 metres on to a journey.

But Sue Rumfitt, representing the Suffolk Ramblers’ Association, said the alternative routes were not only much longer but were also dangerous and unfit for purpose.

The inquiry is being held at venues in Newmarket, Bury St Edmunds and Ipswich. The Weatherby crossing will be discussed on March 13 and 14 in Newmarket’s Memorial Hall and those opposing the closure are encouraging residents who support the crossing being kept open to attend.

Read the full story in the Newmarket Journal.