New information suggests Network Rail has under-stated its plans to build more inaccessible footbridges, after proposals emerged for a new stepped bridge in the heart of west London.
Network Rail claimed in July in a freedom of information (FoI) response that it planned to build 17 more inaccessible bridges from 2022 to 2024, but that it had no plans to build any in the south of England.
But Disability News Service has already reported on two inaccessible footbridges that Network Rail is planning to build, in Wokingham, Berkshire, and in Egham, Surrey.
Now plans have emerged for yet another inaccessible footbridge, this time in Hounslow, west London.
Plans submitted to Hounslow council show Network Rail plans to replace an ageing stepped footbridge at Brooks Lane (pictured) with another stepped footbridge, with work due to start next month.
A letter from Network Rail to the council says the “primary objective” of the proposal is “to replace the existing footbridge with one that is of similar design and scale whilst meeting modern standards”.
It says the current bridge “is in the most appropriate location to continue to provide the most convenient access to the local footpath network”.
Disability Network Hounslow had not been told about the plans for the new footbridge until alerted to the proposals this week by Disability News Service (DNS).
Penny Ledger, chair of the network, said it was important to point out the advantages of ramps and lifts not only to disabled people but also those with baby buggies, shopping and suitcases, and to cyclists.
She said: “I think joining up areas separated by rail tracks should be an important priority for planners.”
DNS was originally contacted by a local campaigner, Andrew Ross, who has questioned why Network Rail has no plans to make the new bridge accessible to disabled people and others who cannot use steps.
He points out that there is a large, sheltered housing complex just 100 metres away from the bridge, and a junior and infant school even closer – which has a unit for autistic children – while the bridge provides access to shops on the south side of the bridge, and to an underground and mainline rail station on the north side.
He says that the alternative way of accessing the south side of the Brooks Lane footbridge from the north side means a pedestrian taking a route of more than a mile.
The area to the south side of the bridge is also a popular tourist destination.
Network Rail is currently investigating the accuracy of July’s FoI response about how many inaccessible footbridges it is planning to build.
The public body, which owns and runs most of the country’s rail infrastructure, has previously blamed cost factors for its decision to continue building footbridges that are likely to breach its legal duties under the Equality Act.
A spokesperson for Network Rail refused to say if it believed the Brooks Lane plans would breach the Equality Act.
He also refused to explain why the FoI response had stated that there were no inaccessible footbridges planned for the southern region this year or next year, suggesting that Network Rail’s freedom of information team would answer this question after it has completed its investigation.
But he said in a statement: “Brooks Lane Bridge in Hounslow is life expired and needs to be replaced for safety reasons.
“Its location means a ramped replacement would not be possible. We aim to have this project underway later this year and will be in touch with users and neighbours soon.”
Councillor Katherine Dunne, deputy leader of Hounslow council and its cabinet member for climate, environment and transport, told DNS in a statement: “As a council we are committed to helping make rail travel accessible for all.
“Improved and accessible public transport options contribute to making our borough cleaner and greener and is an important stepping stone in the council’s journey for tackling our climate emergency and we will apply that commitment insofar as planning law will allow.
“With regards to this specific application it remains under consideration, all concerns raised will be considered in detail and the reasons for the decision publicised when a decision is issued.
“Should the application be refused then a full planning application would be required.
“That application would be considered against the council’s development plan policies, which include policies on disabled access.
“Such an application would also be considered against the council’s obligations under the Equality Act.”
Picture created by Network Rail from Google
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