More than 50 residents from Southcourt and beyond gathered at the Old Stoke Road rail crossing to protest its abrupt closure by network rail.
The demonstration, organised by Labour Councillor Mark Bateman, aimed to highlight how the closure has isolated certain frail and elderly residents from local amenities, such a the post office and local shop.
The ‘alternative’ pedestrian routes can add up to a mile for a journey to and from the Harvey Road shops, which for elderly residents, those with mobility issues or mothers with prams can mean more than 30 minutes is added to the total journey. In some cases, it is just not practical, campaigners say.
The vital rail crossing was closed after the tragic death of Lupe Palomero, who was struck while crossing in November last year.
Cllr Bateman said: “The demonstration brought together residents who are clearly very upset and angry about the closure of this crossing.
“The impact of the closure is considerable. It has removed good walking access to several local amenities such as the post office, William Harding School, the hospital, stadium, the fish and chip shop and Rivets Social Club.
“The result of this is increased traffic from Southcourt onto the Mandeville Road. This at a time when hundreds of new houses are soon to be built on Lower Road, Stoke Mandeville, inevitably increasing the volume of traffic onto the Mandeville Road.
“The crossing was part of a designated cycle path and was considerably safer than cycling into town along the bust Mandeville Road.
“This decision was not thought through at all,” he said.
“The petition continues and every effort made to get this access safely re-opened. If a bridge has been ruled out, then surely safe barrier technology cannot be beyond the capabilities of Network Rail in 2017.
“This route has provided ‘permissive’ access for decades. Bucks County Council has been amiss in not recording it as a public right of way. It has a duty to look at this again for the benefit of residents.”
In response to this, Mark Shaw, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Transport said: “I understand the depth of feeling among residents who say the closure of the crossing has divided their community.
"We’re working closely with Network Rail in the interests of residents’ and rail travellers’ safety, and in the light of the tragic incident last November.
"Our Officers and Local Members will be meeting with Network Rail to discuss the crossing once the Rail Accident Investigations Board has completed its inquiry.”
Carmel Traynor, Labour’s candidate for the town council for Southcourt, who also helped organise the demonstration said: “We are really unahppy about this closure. People are angry there was no discusssion, involvement or consultation. This is their crossing, and they haven’t been allowed a say.
“They have heard from nobody, seen nothing, none of their views have been taken into account by either Network Rail or the council. It’s almost as if the people of Southcourt have been forgotten,” Carmel added.
“We are here, but where is our county council?
“We have been accused of stirring up a fuss but this is people having a legitimate say, their views and using their voice,” she said
A statement on Network Rail's website said: “In November 2016 a woman was killed on the Old Stoke Road level crossing and in December a man narrowly avoided certain death after misusing the Griffin Lane level crossing.
"There have been other recorded incidents of misuse at both crossings.
“After getting the required permissions from Buckinghamshire County Council, Old Stoke Road has been permanently closed and Network Rail will work with the council to provide safe cycling routes in the affected area. Safety is our number one concern.”
Lib Dem county councillor for Aylesbury South West, Cllr Niknam Hussain, said there was no public right of way on this crossing, unlike others in the town, and the council had no authority to enforce it upon Network Rail.
He also accused campaigners of “whipping up the issue with incorrect information”.
“I myself questioned the closing of the crossing as it has separated a community and made accessing essential services like the local school, post office and hospital that much more difficult. While adversely affecting several local businesses. [I have] pressed upon the officers the concerns and difficulties of the community.
“Network Rail informed us that they were unable to do anything until the Health Safety Executive had reported on the latest incident. I again pressed the balance of risk versus the fact that crossing was very much needed and could there any mitigating measures, like a bridge or making the crossing safer?”