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City consults lawyers over refusal to put ramps on new Hinksey Bridge
OXFORD City Council is consulting lawyers in its battle against Network Rail over a footbridge in South Oxford.
The council is mulling legal action over the company’s plans to demolish Hinksey footbridge and replace it with one without ramps.
Bob Price, the leader of the city council, has said Network Rail should put ramps on the bridge, which currently only has steps, because of equal access legislation.
Network Rail was refused planning permission for the new bridge by the city council but this was overturned by a Government inspector last month.
Mr Price said: “Whatever the inspector says, the issue of access has to be considered in the context of the Equality Act.
“In our view it means that you cannot build a facility not accessible to the disabled without there being a suitable alternative route the disabled person could take – and in the case of Hinksey Bridge there is not one.
“We have referred it to our lawyers to get a view and to see how viable a case it is but we would prefer not to pursue it legally.
“We have put on the table that we would be prepared to contribute towards an accessible bridge and we hope that Network Rail sees sense.”
Under the Oxford and Rugby Railways Act 1845, Network Rail does not have to seek planning permission to replace the bridge, but merely needs prior approval.
Network Rail says it only has funding for a like-for-like replacement of the bridge.
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.
Vale council leader Matthew Barber said: “We have been very supportive of this but we need to understand what the final costs will be.
“We are very keen to see the project move forward and if we can make a contribution towards it we certainly will.”
However county council leader Ian Hudspeth said: “My understanding is that it is being challenged on Disability Discrimination Act grounds and it is premature to talk about anything else at this stage.”
Network Rail spokeswoman Anne-Marie Batson said: “Equality legislation only applies to new structures, rather than like-for-like replacements such as Hinksey Bridge, and our taxpayer funding is based on that principle.
“We have always been prepared to add extra enhancements to bridges and similar structures where the local authority has been prepared to invest on behalf of its local residents.
“We have made this clear in our dealings with Oxford for many months.
“We now look forward to working with Oxford City Council to resolve this situation as quickly as possible.”
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