Plans are afoot to replace a “dangerous” Biggleswade level crossing, but although it is welcome news, residents are concerned that its replacement bridge will be built too far north.
Network Rail hosted an information event to discuss plans for the closure of the Lindsell Level Crossing and improvements to the local rights of way network in the town on Tuesday (September 10).
It is working with Central Bedfordshire Council on a plan to build a new bridge 385 metres to the north of the level crossing, after Biggleswade received a recent Housing Infrastructure Fund award of £70 million from central government, which included funds to improve the crossing.
Biggleswade Town Councillor Grant Fage, of Holme Ward, announced on social media: “Lindsell’s crossing has been identified by Network Rail as a very high risk crossing. Replacing the crossing with a high sided bridleway bridge will reduce the number of accidents.”
Meanwhile, Cllr Hayley Whitaker, Independent Central Bedfordshire Councillor for Biggleswade South, says the proposed changes “will have a major impact on the town in a number of ways”.
She told the Chronicle: “The information event was incredibly busy and showed the strength of feeling in the town.
“Network Rail are getting rid of level crossings across the country.
“However, the total diversion length [to get to the new bridge], including the ramps, would be three quarters of a mile.
“You increase a 10-minute walk to a 25-minute walk.
“That’s a relatively big difference.”
In his social media post, Cllr Fage noted that the network of paths in the north of Biggleswade would have to change, meaning an extra route to the Common along a path to the side of Shortmead House, in addition to the existing route along the river.
New bridleways would also be laid from Fairfield and from Furzenhall, stretching from established routes up to the new bridge.
However, Ms Whitaker had concerns that a popular family bridleway in front of Shortmead House would become permissive – “closed whenever the landowner chooses” – but owner and Central Bedfordshire and Town Councillor Ian Bond said he has “committed to keep the driveway open and to retain it as part of the Biggleswade Green Wheel”.
Ms Whitaker also posted on social media, claiming: “CBC are very clear that the only reason that the bridge needs to move is ‘so that the bridge does not overshadow the nearby solar farm or unduly impinge on the nearby Grade 2 listed building of Shortmead House’ following complaints from the owner, Cllr Ian Bond.
“However, CBC were also able to confirm that ‘having constructed a scaled profile, we don’t think that a bridge located near the [current] crossing would have any impact on the solar farm.’”
Cllr Bond, said: “My connection and involvement with RailTrack, then Network Rail since 2000 has always been as the owner of Shortmead House and never as a local councillor.
“Shortmead House now consists of 50 acres of land with the purpose of maintaining the setting of the house and grounds, as well as preserving/protecting the surrounding land around from development.
“Lindsell’s Crossing was closed to vehicular traffic in 2009 due to HSE concerns as there had been many incidents of vehicles crashing through the ECML crossing gates and being set alight. I supported the decision to stop access for vehicular traffic in 2009.
“It is very difficult to answer if the bridge would impact the solar panels; as of yet we have no design for the bridleway bridge apart from the information that the ramps would be at least 185m long. The bridge would be 8.5m above track level.
“If the bridge was sited at Lindsell’s crossing it would tower over everything in the area, including the Fairfield Estate. English Heritage were very much against locating the bridge at Lindsell’s; they were concerned at the impact to the Listed Building and the curtilage.”
A Central Bedfordshire Council spokeswoman, said: “We are working closely with Network Rail on their plans for a new bridge to replace the current level crossing.
“On Tuesday, Network Rail hosted a public drop in event to hear the views of local residents.
“Central Bedfordshire Council officers were also at the event, using the opportunity to explore some options for possible changes to some of the footpaths and bridleways.
“We are absolutely committed to improving public access to the countryside where possible as demonstrated by the creation of the Green Wheel at this location.
“No decisions have yet been made on the location or design of the bridge.
“Formal proposals for any changes to bridleways and footpaths would also be subject to public consultation and decision making.”
A Network Rail spokeswoman said: “Network Rail is currently looking at plans to replace Lindsells level crossing in Biggleswade with a bridge over the railway and there are plans to build a number of new homes nearby, mean more people using the crossing.
““Safety is Network Rail’s top priority and closing the crossing and replacing it with a bridge would improve safety in the area and provide 24/7 access across a busy railway line.
“Network Rail recently held a public information event where those living in the area could find out more about the plans and provide feedback.
“Network Rail continues to work closely with Central Bedfordshire Council on these plans, including where the bridge would be located.”
Residents can send opinions to: LiabilityNegotiationsLNEEM@networkrail.co.uk