A HUMAN rights body has criticised a decision to rebuild a footbridge in Oxford without ramps.
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.
Rail bosses want to build a new taller bridge because they are electrifying the line through Oxford, meaning that cables need to be run over the track.
However, they say they only have funding for a like-for-like replacement, which would not include a ramp.
Oxford East MP Andrew Smith contacted the commission to offer his support.
In reply, a senior lawyer at the commission, Joanna Owen, said that when exercising public functions, all organisations – including Network Rail and the Planning Inspectorate – have a legal duty to have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, and to advance equality.
She added that the approach taken by Network Rail and the Planning Inspectorate risks “demoting” this duty.
Mr Smith said: “I hope common sense, and common humanity, can prevail so we get the ramps, which are vital for people with disabilities or limited mobility and a real help to those needing to cross with small children in buggies.
“I took the issue up with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), on the principle that both Network Rail and the Planning Inspectorate should have full and proper regard to equality of access issues in the need to provide ramps for the replacement bridge.
“The encouraging thing about this reply is that 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 was refused planning permission for the new bridge by Oxford City Council, but this was overturned by a Government inspector in February. But the city council is still trying to get the ramps installed, claiming Network Rail has a legal obligation to include them.
An EHRC spokesman, Valentine Murombe-Chivero, said it was too early to say whether the body would be able to take any action in this case.
The city council has also refused prior approval for a similar bridge off Whitehouse Road because Network Rail’s proposed replacement also doesn’t have ramps.
Network Rail has also appealed this decision but a ruling has not yet been made.
Network Rail spokesman Anne Marie Batson said: “We note the comments in the Equalities and Human Rights Commission letter to Andrew Smith MP regarding calls to add ramps to Hinksey Bridge.
“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.
“We fully appreciate the concerns regarding accessibility at Hinksey Bridge and we will continue looking at opportunities to develop an improved design should additional funds become available.”
A Planning Inspectorate spokesman said: “We have not yet received any correspondence from the Equality and Human Rights Commission regarding this case.
“The Planning Inspectorate is aware of the provisions of the Equality Act 2010, and of the public sector equality duty, which the Inspector would have considered when determining the appeal. It was not, however, within the Inspector’s power to dismiss the appeal for lack of access.”
Repair follows flooding
A RAILWAY embankment nearing collapse after flooding will have “urgent” repair works carried out.
The two-kilometre stretch of line, at Piddington near Bicester, will be rebuilt after councillors approved the plans.
Trains travelling at up to 100mph use the route, which forms part of the Chiltern line between Birmingham and London Marylebone.
At this stage Network Rail was unable to say when work would start, how long the project would take and whether there would be any travel disruption.
A spokesman said: “Parts of the Piddington embankment near Bicester North station on the Chiltern line has subsided owing to longstanding heavy flooding.
“Safety is our number one priority and, following detailed ground investigation and monitoring of the site, we will need to carry out repairs to restore the embankment.’’ During the construction phase there will be up to 40 lorries a day travelling to the site.
The embankment has been monitored by Network Rail since 2003, and monitoring devices have showed there have been movements of up to 150mm in a down-slope direction in places, the council said.