Design panel stand by controversial Needham Market level crossing replacement plans
PUBLISHED: 06:23 12 April 2018 | UPDATED: 08:38 12 April 2018
Plans to divert a dangerous level crossing in Needham Market are above board, says a member of the design panel for the project.
The news follows concern that controversial blueprints may have been drawn up behind closed doors.
It was announced the Gipsy Lane crossing would be closed back in November 2016, after TV and film actress Olive McFarland, 82, was struck and killed by a train travelling at nearly 100mph on the crossing in 2011.
After looking at seven options, Network Rail drew up a scheme to close the crossing completely and divert the footpath to an existing culvert 230 metres north of the crossing, where people will pass under the line.
However, Tony Fayers, who owns the land designated to create the footpath, said he was concerned Suffolk County Council might be planning to create a bridleway or cycle path in place of or alongside the agreed footpath.
Mr Fayers claimed that the council is demanding a piece of land 3m wide, rather than the 1.5m designated by official specifications for a standard footpath.
He also argued that localised flooding, poor lighting and access issues may render it difficult or dangerous for people to use the planned diversion to the culvert – and insists creating a new underpass would be a better option.
However, Mike Norris, Needham Market ward representative for Mid Suffolk District Council (MSDC), and member of the design panel for the project, said plans to build a footpath remain unchanged – and any alternative ideas, such as a bridleway or cycle path, would have to be subject to a separate application.
He said: “If the intention is at some point in the future to extend the footpath to become a cycle way, that will have to be the subject of a separate planning application.
“At the moment, the situation is that the existing planning application is purely for a footpath only.”
Mr Norris pointed out that flooding may be an issue, and said he appreciated Mr Fayers’ concerns.
He added that it is possible that the county council may seek to extend the facility; however, this would never be agreed behind closed doors. For now, only a footpath is on the cards.
Both Network Rail and Suffolk County Council have been approached for comment.
Network Rail, which was fined £4m over Ms Mcfarland’s death, said it had wanted to close the crossing since the incident but first an alternative crossing had to be found in order to protect rights of way.
In 1993, Ian Cullen, 32, died when his car was involved in a collision with a Norwich-to-London train on the unmanned crossing. It had been described as “an accident waiting to happen”, yet it was still a further 13 years before it became a foot crossing only.