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Message from Chris Thompson, Area Rights of Way Officer
To all RA Members,
Please see below an email I received on 18th April 2017 from RA Central Office. The email concerns a path claim made from Burton Road near Burton Joyce/Gedling to Stoke Bardolph Notts. The path in question was a well used path for many years. Gedling group under the late John Lord obtained a considerable number of user evidence forms proving this path was well used. The only problem the claimed path crossed a railway ( Nottingham to Lincoln line). The claim was based on crossing this railway by an unlocked gate and one gate with a gap at the side of the railway. The claim went to an enquiry. Notts Area had great support in writing up the evidence for the inquiry by RA Central Office. Sadly at the Inquiry Network Rail were only interested that ramblers had crossed a live railway line which is a criminal offence. The fact that no signs preventing access were at the railway crossing denying access to the route was not accepted by Network Rail. Also Severn Trent who own the fields leading to both sides of the railway line, use the crossing with tractors with trailers behind. That is much more dangerous but accepted by Network Rail. The inquiry was not interested in the user evidence. RA presentation provided full case for use of the path including the situation at the crossing and the user evidence presented proving the path was well used. The Inspector took the views of Network Rail so we lost the case.
However Ramblers Central office considered this case and felt it was necessary to ask for a judicial review that was heard in the High Court in London. The email below gives you the recent decision that now has been made following the Judicial Review.
Having lost this case we must all be concerned about the future on railway crossings either by claiming using the Definitive modification process or when Network Rail choose to have crossing closed and either extinguished or diverted. Recently particularly in Eastern area around Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex etc Network Rail have announced many railway crossing closures. Of particular concern have been that several of the proposals for closure provide dangerous diverted routes to be able to cross the line. It is quite clear we have a very serious problem here. However at the General Council this year, in early April, the new chief Executive announced that Ramblers had had a useful meeting with Network Rail to see a way forward. Let's hope we have more good news about further discussions they both have.
Finally we must congratulate RA Central Office for taking this matter to the High Court with such high fees to pay. When you are talking to non RA members remember to point out the work being undertaken to protect our rights of Way by The Ramblers . This case certainly proves that situation.I shall keep you all in touch with further developments as I receive them
Email sent to Chris from Eugene Suggett at The Ramblers
Subject: Ramblers v Secretary of State
I’m very sorry to report that we lost the High Court case. The judge found against us on every point.
The Ramblers now need to decide whether to take the matter to the Court of Appeal. This will be a decision for the Board of Trustees, who will need to weigh a number of factors, including, very obviously, the cost. So far it has cost in the region of £120,000, and Network Rail are trying to get their costs as well, which will make it more like £200k (though it is considered unlikely that they will succeed). We would get much of that back if the appeal succeeded, but if it failed we could lose the same sum again. So the Board will need to weigh it carefully.
One of the reasons which tipped the Board in favour of bringing the case in the first place was the threat to a large number of footpath level crossings under Network Rail’s ‘safety’ programme. Where such a crossing is shown on the definitive map, there needs to be a closure order with a right of objection and determination by an independent Inspector. The Board was concerned that NR would by-pass that procedure in the case of the many footpaths which are definitive up to the railway but non-definitive where they cross the rails, and winning the Burton Joyce case would go some way to safeguarding all such paths. But now that three large orders have been published for the crossing closure programme throughout East Anglia, in the counties of Essex, Cambridgeshire and Suffolk, we are finding that non-definitive paths are being included as part of the due process, with a right of objection without our having to prove that these are rights of way first of all.So this may make it rather less likely that the Board will consider it worth appealing the Stoke Bardolph decision.
I’m sorry about the result. There is to be a case conference with the barristers soon and after that staff will have a clearer picture about the prospects of appeal.
With good wishes
Eugene Suggett Senior Policy Officer, Policy and Advocacy Team The Ramblers 020 7339 8522