THE leader of Oxford City Council has threatened to scupper one of Network Rail’s schemes if it does not provide ‘disabled-friendly’ bridges in South Oxford.
Bob Price has said he would allow the company to close the Aristotle Lane level crossing in North Oxford, but only if it played ball with the Hinksey and Whitehouse Road footbridges.
As part of its £1bn electrification scheme, Network Rail wants to close the level crossing, which leads to some allotments, as well as demolish the nearby bridge and replace it with a higher one.
It also wants to demolish the two bridges in South Oxford and make them taller.
The city council has objected to the fact that the bridges in South Oxford will not have ramps and so will be inaccessible for the disabled and those with buggies.
Mr Price said: “The two footbridges are very important links and when they were first put there in the 1920s they didn’t accommodate for people who had disabilities or pushbuggies. We think it is perfectly reasonable to link the two issues. If, on the one hand, it would be sensible to close the crossing, it would also be sensible to accommodate the disabled at these two bridges.
“Since they have stuck to their guns, we are going to stick to ours.”
The city council refused prior approval to Network Rail to demolish the two bridges and both have since gone to appeal.
A government planning inspector supported Network Rail with the Hinksey footbridge while a decision is still pending on the Whitehouse Road bridge.
Meanwhile, Network Rail has submitted a planning application to demolish the Aristotle Lane footbridge and replace it, which would in turn allow it to close the nearby level crossing.
But the city council is the owner of the crossing rights to the private footpath and Network Rail must ask it to surrender those rights so the crossing can be closed for safety reasons.
Allotment holder, Frenchay Road resident and former city councillor Jim Campbell said: “Anything that is done to keep the level crossing open in my opinion is a huge benefit.
“If the level crossing is closed it will take me a lot longer to get to my plot.”
Hayfield Road resident Jonathan Clark, who also has a plot, said: “If Bob Price is using the level crossing as a negotiating strategy then good for him but it is slightly ironic because he was supporting the closure.
“I don’t think it is dangerous. If you are quick to cross, it is fine.”
Network Rail has said that it wants to demolish and replace the footbridge to enable the construction of a new passenger line between Oxford and Wolvercote.
Bringing this line back into use means it can run freight and passenger services on separate lines to reduce disruption and making the railway more reliable.
A Network Rail spokesman said: “We will continue to work with Oxford City Council on our plans to improve and modernise the railway across the region.”
A decision on Network Rail’s planning application will be made by a committee of city councillors at a date yet to be set.