Bramley Parish Council Noticeboard

Update on Footbridge Proposal

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To: Bramley Community

Dear All

This is an update from the Bramley Parish Council.

Since at least 2011 the possibility of a footbridge over the railway line has been the subject of discussion and almost every kind of speculation one can imagine. The Parish Council believe it is time to present the community with facts as we know them. We can only present those facts shared with us by Network Rail (NWR), Hampshire County (HCC) and Borough Council (BDBC) representatives.

In 2010 there was a question in the “Bramley Village Plan” questionnaire. It was a simple question without context and with 3 possible answers or no response at all.

“Would you like to see a footbridge at Bramley station?”

Of a total 1662 Bramley households 35.6% responded.

Of those, only 27.0% responded with “Yes”, the remainder (73%) were “No”, “no opinion” or no response at all.

The matter was pursued by our then Ward Councillors at BDBC, Cllrs Vaughan and Jayawardena, and with HCC. The Parish Council were not involved but did eventually receive a copy of the HCC feasibility study published in December 2010. The study was an HCC originated document with little NWR input, and was declared by HCC to be indicative only on its drawings and that input would be needed from NWR to take it further. One can now consider the study as out of date as the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 has been replaced by the Equalities Act 2010, and NWR has released their Equalities policy statement. Any structure on this line must also be able to accommodate future electrification. The stepped bridge at Reading West was removed, and in time electrification will impact on the stepped bridge at Mortimer.  Proposals for a new able-bodied only access bridge were branded “appalling” and rejected by Reading West Council. Alok Sharma MP also expressed his concerns over the able-bodied only access proposal at Reading West. In addition, NWR have published the results of their bridge design study/competition showing their preferred route of an “access for all” bridge design.

In 2013/14 the Parish Council considered the then proposal in principle from Cllr Jayawardena and objected to a stepped bridge at the road end of the platform for 3 reasons:

1)      The primary objection is that a stepped bridge excludes those most vulnerable and ignores the legislation (now the Equalities Act 2010) in place to ensure equality. Also, those with heavy baggage/luggage, pushchairs/buggies, toddlers etc would be excluded and still have to wait for the barriers to go up.

2)      If installed near the platforms and road it would adversely dominate the skyline and have serious privacy issues for the properties nearby. Since that time the eventual electrification will increase the height of any structure making it even more intrusive. Also, there is now increasing ASB activity near the station and a footbridge is too tempting a target for some in the community. Is there space near the station anyway?

3)      The Parish Council is concerned that tax payers’ money would be used to fund this project which would primarily serve able bodied NWR/train operator customers and fly in the face of the vulnerable within the community. Again, more recently HCC were given £200,000 of developer monies to contribute to a safe pedestrian crossing of the railway line.

Note:  the specific terms are as follows: “£200,000 to facilitate the safe pedestrian crossing of the railway at the level crossing or in the vicinity of the level crossing (which may or may not include a footbridge)”. The Parish Council would like to see proposals to use these funds as specified because unless there is a viable and deliverable project the funds will have to be returned to the developer (in 2021, we believe) by Hampshire County Council. These funds are allocated under a legal agreement to. To reallocate them is not easy and a legal process called a “deed of variation” would need to be followed, should they wish to do so. Given, that the cost of a new revised crossing is, in NWR words to the Parish Council, close to £2,000,000, is a contribution of £200,000 possibly too small in reality and could be better used on other projects? Bramley Parish Council remain fully supportive of those people less-able and encumbered in anyway and see no justification for them having to wait for the barriers to rise whilst others do not.

BDBC are the holders of a pot of funds derived from development in the area, this pot is called the Local Infrastructure Fund (LIF) and in 2013/14 was given to the BDBC to fund local projects in the areas taking the development. This resulted in approximately £500,000 being allocated for Bramley. Applications for funds had to include “business” plans, budgets, a portion of matched funds from another source and demonstrate local consultation. In 2014 Cllr Jayawardena promptly submitted an application for £450,000 to £500,000 to be allocated to a footbridge project. Basic supporting work and documentation supplied in the application were “sketchy” and needed further work. Also, despite claims to the contrary, the applicant failed to demonstrate to BDBC officers any, then recent consultation with his fellow ward councillor and the community, and did not demonstrate that NWR would match the funding to cover the then estimated of cost of £1,000,000.  However, BDBC’s Cabinet ring-fenced £450,000 for one year. At the end of the 12 months with still no plans, no further consultation, or any funding commitment from NWR, the money was released by BDBC members and officers for use in other community raised initiatives.

In December 2018, NWR was asked by the Parish Council about funding for a footbridge. Their answer was that there was NO funding available. At a subsequent meeting between members of the Parish Council and NWR in May of 2019 they confirmed that there were no plans to install a footbridge as the current crossing situation is as follows:

1)      There is no funding available.

2)      Space around the station environs was very restrictive for any design of bridge.

3)      After discussions, in 2017 with HCC and BDBC, NWR stated there are no compelling grounds for a footbridge.

4)      The half barriers were replaced approximately 15 years ago with full barriers.  Full barriers, with appropriate levels of service, have a life of approximately 25 years.  The barriers will, under normal circumstances, be reviewed in 10 years’ time, i.e. 2029.

5)      A risk assessment is carried out every two years, as well as regular inspections.  The last assessment was December 2018 and the conclusion was “…that aside from the occasional tasking of the BTP mobile enforcement van, no further recommendations can be made at this crossing, and that the risk at the crossing is considered to be as low as is reasonably practicable.” i.e. it is declared a safe crossing when used correctly.

All communication between the Parish Council and NWR is reviewed at our meetings and recorded in the minutes.

In 2018 our Member of Parliament, Mr Jayawardena MP, began the process of raising a petition in Parliament regarding the need for a foot bridge. There is currently no record on the House of Commons list that the petition has been submitted as of September 16th 2019.

He also gave a press release to the Basingstoke Gazette in which he says “The pedestrian route across the level crossing at Bramley has long been dangerous at worst-and an annoyance at best- and it is time for a footbridge to be constructed like those at Mortimer and Hook [these are both able-bodied only access]”.  NWR rail safety audits and a lack of evidence contradict this assessment. Yes, there was a very sad and regrettable fatal accident between the platforms in 1974. In 2004 the crossing was upgraded with full width barriers and CCTV. Mr Jayawardena MP went on to say “More than 200 sooty diesel trains- passenger and freight- pass through Bramley every day. Together with the fumes from idling vehicles, this creates a miasma of toxic air, which pedestrians are forced to breathe as they wait for the train to pass. A footbridge would get them [able-bodied and unencumbered only] over and away as quickly as possible.” This proposition clearly indicates a view that that it is acceptable for the less-able, and those encumbered or with toddlers and infants in buggies to breathe in this “toxic miasma” whilst they wait for the barriers to rise.  That is not an acceptable situation to the Parish Council who remains firmly opposed to it. The current crossing, albeit frustrating at times, is safe and equality compliant; therefore, why build in discrimination? There is still no sign of a substantive viable proposal nor community consultation.

Regarding the air quality, the Parish Council have submitted to BDBC an independent report proving the air quality is poor but they chose to dispute and disregard it, which is odd as, in the press release mentioned above there is a photograph of Mr Jayawardena MP and the BDBC Cabinet Member for the Environment, Cllr Hayley Eachus, presumably supporting Mr Jayawardena MP’s air quality statement.

Where are we today? There is still no viable, inclusive (Equalities Act 2010 compliant), funded and NWR supported proposal in place. In a recent official communication from Cllr Rhydian Vaughan MBE, whilst declaring that the Parish Council’s insistence that less-able and encumbered people be treated equally as “hokum”, he alluded to further communication from NWR, however, the content has neither been disclosed to the Parish Council nor the wider community. The Parish Council have again written to NWR seeking a situation report and clarification and we await a response.

As you can see there is no formal supported proposal in place for anyone to review. Thus, claims that the Parish Council are blocking progress are just not true. Having said that, the Parish Council will continue to stand up for equality and insist that a full consultation takes place, paying particular attention to residents and businesses in the immediate vicinity of the station, should a proposal ever come forward.

 

Bramley Parish Council

September 2019.

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