‘Crime generator’ underpass plans on hold

Campaigners fighting to stop a “crime generator” underpass being built in Ashington are “ecstatic” at news the plans have been put on hold.

Thursday, 11th November 2021, 3:57 pm
Updated Thursday, 11th November 2021, 4:20 pm
Labour councillor Caroline Bell has led objections against the underpass.

The proposals, to replace the Hospital Level Crossing across what is set to become the Northumberland Line, had prompted fears of a surge in crime in the area.

But brains behind the scheme have now revealed they have bowed to pressure and are considering “alternative options”.

“We haven’t won the battle yet, but it’s a step in the right direction,” said Graham Harding, who lives next to the suggested site of the underpass and who previously branded the plans “soul destroying”.

“The residents are happy that their voices have been heard, but we’re also well aware that it’s just one hurdle we’ve got over and there will be many more to go.

“We’re not going to give up the fight, but it shows they are aware there are issues which need to be addressed and I don’t think they expected such a big response.

“If they had engaged properly from the start, think of all the time and money put into this which could have been put to better use.”

Travel experts suggested upgrades would be needed for the crossing between Darnley Road, on the eastern side of the railway tracks, and Roseneath Court, on the west, to deal with increased traffic as a result of the Northumberland Line project to return passenger services to what was previously known as the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne Line.

A planning application for an underpass was submitted to Northumberland County Council (NCC) in September, with objections quickly raised by families living nearby and opposition led by Caroline Ball, county councillor for Ashington.

It was dealt a further blow when Northumbria Police called it a “crime generator” and the force claimed it was not convinced of the need for the new crossing.

Speaking at the opening of a public inquiry on plans for the rail line plans, representatives for Northumberland County Council (NCC) revealed the underpass plans had been put on ice.

Richard Turney, a lawyer representing the local authority, said: “Objections have been raised to the proposed underpass on the basis that it may attract increased anti-social behaviour.

“The case for closing the crossing is clear and not substantially disputed.

“However, NCC has noted the strength of feeling about the proposed underpass and has asked the local planning authority not to determine the application for the time being, to allow further consideration of alternative options.”

A spokesman for Northumberland Labour told the News Post Leader: “Obviously we are delighted with the work of Coun Ball and residents who have fought hard to challenge the appropriateness of the underpass and welcome the u-turn.

“Clearly having a strong local Labour representative is key to have authorities listen and not have communities disregarded over concerns.

“We wholeheartedly support the Northumberland Line and very much want it to be accessible to all and run in harmony with communities, not create new issues, only opportunities.”