Network Rail is intent on installing a new, 96-step footbridge to replace a level crossing that currently has no steps.
Copmanthorpe No. 2 level crossing is on a footpath between Copmanthorpe and Bishopthorpe, pleasant villages just outside York. It is currently sort of accessible: the path is dodgy, particularly on the Bishopthorpe side, but there are no steps or stairs.
I can cross it in my wheelchair. With a little work, it could be made more accessible, making it easier still for wheelchair users, cyclists, pushchair users, etc.
But the crossing has to be removed. It crosses over the East Coast Mainline (trains at 125mph) and the TransPennine route (100mph), 4 railway lines of express trains. Currently, over 400 trains a day cross this crossing. Frankly, it is scary and dangerous – and needs to be closed. There’s no denying that.
Network Rail intends to replace it with a 96-stair stepped footbridge. No ramps; just 48 steps up and 48 steps down.
The sort-of not-very accessible level crossing, with NO steps or stairs, can be managed by cyclists, people with pushchairs, people who struggle with lots of steps, etc. The paths on either side of the railway (over the railway embankments) have not been maintained adequately by Network Rail; they could be made more accessible. Given the drive towards Active Travel, the path to Bishopthorpe could be improved to make them more accessible.
But how are cyclists, people with pushchairs, people who struggle with lots of steps, etc. going to manage with a 96-step footbridge?!
Most footbridges are 6m high. Such as the offensively-inaccessible “flow” footbridge Network Rail is touting for easy and cheap placement throughout the country.
Network Rail doesn’t just have a traditional way to install inaccessible footbridges. For the last two years they’ve been working on a fully inaccessible ‘prototype’ called the Flow footbridge.’ Credit where credit’s due they are good at developing fancy designs for inaccessible infrastructure.
“Work is planned to develop a ramped version of the (FLOW) bridge“, apparently, though the one already installed in Shrewsbury doesn’t have ramps. I frankly don’t believe that they will develop one with ramps, or that ramps can or will be added, and I don’t think anybody else truly does believe it either – including, frankly, Network Rail.
However, they aren’t using the FLOW bridge in Copmanthorpe. This is because the footbridge they are putting in will be too tall. Network Rail refuses to spend the money to lower the “fizzy knitting” (0verhead line equipment). The bridge they intend putting in therefore has to be 8m (48 steps) high – a third higher than most footbridges.
(Pictures taken from Network Rail’s application to York City Council.)
So not only are they replacing an unstepped level crossing, with a stepped footbridge – they are replacing it with an extra big stepped footbridge. Even more difficult than most for people who struggle with stairs.
Network Rail is making a complete mockery of their supposed commitment to Inclusive Design. It also appears that they did not consult their own Built Environment Accessibility Panel. They are Just Doing It (TM).
Network Rail applied for planning permission for the new bridge using a different procedure than you or I would use. They applied for “prior approval” as a Permitted Development under Part 18 of Schedule 2 of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015.
This is important because this procedure specifically prevents the Council from objecting to the lack of accessibility of the bridge. They are specifically and only allowed to object on the basis that they think the location of the footbridge should be different, or that the external appearance of the footbridge wouldn’t be appropriate.
The Council Officer’s Report confirmed this. It noted the Parish Council’s multiple cogent objections on access grounds:
A stepped bridge without ramps potentially reduces the accessibility to those who can physically use the current surfaced level crossing.
The proposed stepped bridge does not meet Network Rail’s responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010 based on reduced accessibility.
The application does not accord with the council’s own Equalities Impact Assessment which previously concluded that the inclusion of a stepped bridge as a means to cross the lines is not as convenient and accessible to current users of the level crossing.
Network Rail have not carried out a sufficiently robust Diversity Impact Assessment in regard to the changes.
There has been insufficient consultation or assessment of the alternatives to a stepped bridge.
There was no evidence that Network Rail had consulted their own Built Environment Access Panel (BEAP) on the proposal.
But as noted, the Council was unable to refuse planning pre-approval – because the law does not permit them to do so.
Public Right of Way Diversion – Council
Given the Council couldn’t refuse the Planning Application, the only way the Council could object on accessibility grounds was through refusing permission to divert the Public Right of Way (the footpath that currently goes over the Level Crossing) over the proposed new footbridge.
This they refused, with great style. The council’s Equality Impact Assessment of the proposed change noted comments:
that removing the level crossing and replacing it with one that discriminates against some individuals is morally questionable. … the proposed stepped footbridge would not be as accessible as the level crossing, and would prevent/discriminate against families with pushchairs, bicycles and those with mobility aids or less able to climb steps from using the path.
The report noted (inter alia)
- No attempt (by Network Rail) to engage with the 26 groups identified by Network Rail as representing people with a protected characteristic as defined under the Equality Act 2010 eg consultation with schools, youth groups, groups representing physically/mentally disabled, blind or partially sighted people
- The proposed stepped footbridge may impact disabled people who have a mobility or cognitive impairment (but who are currently able to negotiate the existing level crossing), due to the large number of steps to be negotiated on either side of the footbridge.
- A stepped bridge would not be accessible to people whose disability means they have to use a wheelchair.
Request that a ramped bridge be installed instead of a stepped bridge to ensure the new method of crossing the railway lines is at least as accessible as the current level crossing.
But it noted the following “reasons” from Network Rail as to why a ramped footbridge would seemingly be inappropriate:
- because the bridge has to be so tall, the ramps would have to be even longer, making the diversion longer and the land used bigger. Lowering the wires to make the bridge lower would be “too costly and significantly disproportionate to the scheme.“
- A ramped bridge would need extra land to be purchased, the landowner objects and the landscaping required would be “beyond what is deemed reasonably practicable“
- The footpaths on either side of the existing crossing aren’t great in design or condition and so present barriers to some disabled people, so a stepped footbridge wouldn’t make any difference to said disabled people.
The above reasoning was taken directly from Network Rail’s standard “sorry you lose” diversity impact assessment of the new bridge, which noted multiple people’s cogent objections to the inaccessible new footbridge – but Network Rail decided to go ahead anyway.
The Council was unconvinced. It noted that the footpath pre-dates the railway, that the railway embankments made the path difficult for disabled people, and that:
The introduction of a stepped bridge will discourage or prevent yet more people from using the footpath. The expectations of these protected groups are expected to grow rather than diminish and no account is taken of those people with limited mobility etc who may want to use the path but are currently prevented from doing so. The council therefore favours a ramped bridge at this location.
Indeed it is not clear whether as a new build project, the proposal of a stepped bridge meets Network Rail’s responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010. Once the new stepped footbridge has been constructed it is very unlikely that it will be changed in the foreseeable future, even if passive provision for ramps is made in the design of the bridge. The structure would be expected to remain “as is” for 120 years so any future aspirations to improve the off-road route between Copmanthorpe/Bishopthorpe, to provide an off-road cycle link between the 2 villages for example, would stall.
The Executive Member noted that he felt the proposed footbridge would not be accessible to some users with disabilities and that while not ideal the current crossing was more accessible. It was confirmed that officers had proposed a ramped bridge to increase the accessibility. However, it was confirmed that there had been some challenges with land access for a ramped bridge to be built on and Network Rail currently were not including one within their design.
The Executive Member noted that he also had concerns about the footbridge proposal lacking lighting and being enclosed, noting that safer provisions for pedestrians could have been proposed.
Finally he also noted that while it was currently an ambition and not identified as a cycle route, he would like to see a route which provided a cycle path linking Copmanthorpe and Bishopthorpe explored.
Resolved: Rejected Network Rail’s application to divert the footpath via a stepped footbridge at Beckett’s Crossing.
Reason: As the proposed footbridge would not provide provisions to allow disabled pedestrians to use the crossing. The footbridge proposal being unlit and enclosed was also considered to be an unsafe crossing particularly at night.
In the YouTube video of the relevant meeting, the York City councilor said:
there’s a responsibility on us and Network Rail to carefully consider the Public Sector Equality Duty… the proposal would be less accessible than a level crossing, even though I do accept that the current provision is not as accessible as it should be. … We can’t be seen to be indicating that this potentially could be acceptable.
Appeal to the Secretary of State
As the Council refused permission, Network Rail has appealed the decision to the Secretary of State for Transport. They have submitted an unchanged proposal for a 96-step footbridge.
As part of the process, Network Rail conducted a flawed consultation. I say “flawed” (purposefully, in my view) because Network Rail only presented two options: replacing the level crossing with the stepped footbridge, or shutting the crossing entirely – forcing pedestrians to walk some considerable distance to the existing road bridge, the other side of the village.
In Network Rail’s consultation report, they said (page 37):
A ramped footbridge option was also considered in this location but was not considered suitable as it would be visually intrusive for nearby residents and it would require additional land.
A ramped bridge would be a very large structure with a large footprint and 175m ramps on both sides of the railway, with consequent impacts on the landscape, views and nearby residents.
Construction of a ramped bridge would also take up to eight months.
In response to consultation responses raising concerns about accessibility for people with reduced mobility, including wheelchair users, people with walking sticks, cyclists, and people with pushchairs, Network Rail simply and repeatedly commented (12 times!):
Prior approval to build the new stepped footbridge has been granted by the City of York Council and does not form part of the Order.
Network Rail “conveniently” missed the point that York council had NO CHOICE but to give said planning approval, and that objecting to the Public Right of Way being moved over the footbridge is the only opportunity the Council – or you or I! – have to oppose it.
Network Rail’s argument that disabled people don’t use the existing crossing is specious at best. They only surveyed for 7 days, in October, and they admit that use is likely seasonal. Many disabled people will have been put off by the poor state that Network Rail has let the path get in on their embankments. Also, I bet there are many disabled people using it now, who would not be able to manage 96 steps. And in any case, what about in the future?
Network Rail also argued:
A ramped footbridge would be a very large structure with a large footprint and 175m ramps on both sides of the railway, which impacts on both the landscape and the local community. In addition, a ramped footbridge would require significantly more land take to facilitate.
In my opinion, Network Rail’s stated reasons for rejecting a ramped bridge are neither valid nor genuine.
Network Rail has been very clear in meetings with disabled York residents that the real reason is the cost of including accessibility.
Actually, it was a lot more upfront than that. They sat in front of 2 w/c users (self included) and told us straight that a ramped bridge is too expensive. Been at this a long time & it’s many moons since I was told quite so brutally that my access needs are not value for money😡
— Flick Williams (@flickhwilliams) March 28, 2023
Network Rail has pretty much directly said this on Twitter too.
…alternative at the Old Becketts level crossing site, our design allows for ramps to be added in the future by a third party.
Every design choice we make has to consider how we deliver the best for tax payers, railway users and neighbours. (2/4)
— Network Rail (@networkrail) April 3, 2023
The “TransPennine Route Upgrade“, which includes this footbridge, “is a major, multi-billion-pound programme of railway improvements” – yet Network Rail and the Department for Transport are not prepared to pay the extra to build a ramped footbridge.
Network Rail also implies that people who can’t manage stepped footbridges are somehow a burden on “tax payers, railway users and neighbours“. Yet every disabled person pays tax, is a neighbour to somebody and many are railway users.
This idea that a “third party” may come along in the future and magnanimously pay for and install ramps to the footbridge is ridiculous and offensive. Why should our accessibility have to be an optional, charitable afterthought? Evidence from other Network Rail footbridges shows that ramps are NOT added.
Ludicrous response. They heard me say loudly & forcefully in the meeting “You and everyone in this room knows that if you put in a stepped footbridge, a ramped bridge will NEVER HAPPEN.
Pure gaslighting by @networkrail
— Flick Williams (@flickhwilliams) April 3, 2023
Ramps have not been added to the bridges built at Brigg in 2015 or at Hinksey in 2014.
A new non ramp footbridge was erected at Brigg station in North Lincolnshire a few years ago.
The town is classed as a retirement town and many locals can’t use it, they end up getting a taxi to Barnetby 6 miles away which has ramped footbridge at their station. pic.twitter.com/6dRR1b8iDE
— The Independent Brigg Line Rail Group (Est 2012) (@IBLRG) March 29, 2021
In 2014, the Equality and Human Rights Commission voiced concerns about a new, inaccessible footbridge at Hinksey:
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has said Network Rail should put ramps on Hinksey Bridge, despite the company’s insistence that it doesn’t need to.
… the commission recognises that the approach Network Rail and the Planning Inspectorate have taken risks demoting the public equality duty and need to eliminate discrimination.
(Network Rail said) “As a taxpayer funded organisation, we have to strike a balance between building a replacement bridge that meets the needs both of the railway and the community with the limited funds available.”
Sounds familiar, does it?
It is entirely apparent that the reason Network Rail are not ensuring that new footbridges are accessible is purely the increased cost of such. They don’t want to spend the extra money. Disabled people’s access needs are simply considered too expensive.
This isn’t new, and this isn’t just Copmanthorpe. I strongly suspect that there will be a rash of new, step-only footbridges across the country if we don’t stop this one from being built.
Object to the stepped footbridge
The deadline for submitting an objection has now passed.
We await the Secretary of State for Transport’s determination on where to go from here.
Up until 2nd May 2023, anybody could object to Network Rail’s application for permission to move the Public Right Of Way over this footbridge.
The instructions as to how to object are here. But they are straightforward.
- By 2nd May
- EITHER email your comments or objection to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “Network Rail (Copmanthorpe No. 2 Level Crossing) (Land Acquisition and Closure) Order”
- OR post it to the Secretary of State for Transport c/o Transport Infrastructure Planning Unit, Department for Transport, Zone 1/18, Great Minster House, 33 Horseferry Road, London SW1P 4DR
- IN BOTH CASES include your postal address
- Give your thoughts or objections.
NB: your objection will be sent to Network Rail, and may also be published for all to see. (Presumably with your email and postal address removed.)
Reasons for objection
That’s obviously up to you, but I have suggestions.
I recommend not sending “carbon copy” objections from multiple people, because the Government then count them as one objection / a petition.
Here are some reasons I think that this application to move the right of way onto the proposed stepped footbridge must be refused.
- It’s fundamentally inaccessible. People who may struggle or be unable to cross via such a footbridge could include:
- wheelchair users
- many other people with mobility impairments
- many older people (and Network Rail have noted that the local population includes more older people than the national average)
- people with pushchairs
- It is less accessible than the existing crossing. Many people who can manage the existing crossing, even with its dodgy, unmaintained embankment paths on either side, would simply not be able to cross a 96-step footbridge.
- It locks out accessibility for generations to come. Whilst a ramped footbridge would take Network Rail 8 months to build, if they do not do so they are building in accessibility for the lifetime of the bridge (120+ years.)
- Building an inaccessible footbridge means that the potential for improved access is kyboshed. There is every potential for the route between Copmanthorpe and Bishopthorpe to become an upgraded cycle path / multi-use path in the future – but not if the path goes over this footbridge.
- The real reason they are refusing to put a ramped footbridge in is the cost to “the tax payer”. That’s profoundly offensive. The idea that “our” access needs are too expensive runs counter to the Public Sector Equality Duty, and to disabled people’s access rights. (The implication also that we are not taxpayers isn’t great.)
- It opens the floodgates. The Government and Network Rail have, quite rightly, a significant programme for replacing level crossings. (They are inherently dangerous, people die on them.) We really must not allow all these level crossings, up and down the country, to be replaced with brand new inaccessible infrastructure. This must be stopped, and the principle firmly established that new infrastructure MUST be accessible.
- Ramps will not be added at a later stage. The claimed excuse that “ramps can be added by a third party afterwards” is ridiculous, unproven, will never happen and is offensive. Why should our access needs not be met by Network Rail?
If the Secretary of State receives significant objections, s/he has to take account of them before making a decision. Such can be dealt with through correspondence, a hearing or a public inquiry.
Assuming York City Council, the Parish Council, disabled people’s groups and individuals submit cogent objections, then (hopefully) there should be a public inquiry. This would likely delay any decision by at least a year, putting Network Rail’s TransPennine Rail Upgrade project in jeopardy of significant delay, and will also cause Network Rail significant representation and management cost. It will also unfortunately mean that the existing, dangerous, crossing will continue to be used until a decision is made. I hope that Network Rail have factored all this into their decision to refuse a ramped footbridge.
I wouldn’t like to predict the Secretary of State’s decision, nor the outcome of any Public Inquiry; but at least in principle, they could flat refuse to allow the footpath to be diverted over the footbridge, forcing Network Rail to think again.
In any case, it will certainly be a shot across Network Rail’s bows for any future stepped footbridges.
I have also briefed and prepared excellent campaigning disabled people’s ally lawyers about this footbridge, and will not hesitate to take legal action should it unfortunately prove necessary.