Derbyshire Dales District Council has stepped in to support one of the region's premier tourist attractions.
Network Rail's recent decision to permanently close the level railway crossing at Matlock Bath station on public safety grounds has blocked the main public access to the nearby Heights of Abraham cable car base station.
At a meeting last Thursday the District Council approved an emergency agenda item agreeing to the disposal to the Heights of Abraham of the Council’s freehold interest in land it owns next to the Station Car Park, on which the attraction will create a new pedestrian access route.
The Heights of Abraham will pay the Council £10,000 plus surveyor and legal costs for the transfer, and, in the agreement, the Council will retain rights over the roadway for pedestrian access for the public between the Station Car Park and two public footpaths to the A6 and Starkholmes.
District Council Chief Executive Paul Wilson told last Thursday's meeting, which was broadcast live and can be viewed again below, that the issue had been "moving at quite some pace" and that the principles of the agreement had only been finalised at 3.30 that afternoon.
Describing the agreement as "crucial", Mr Wilson added:
"The level crossing has been closed by Network Rail despite opposition from this council, Derbyshire County Council and the Heights of Abraham themselves. There is now no means of the attraction providing safe level access to the cable car station.
"The Heights of Abraham is one of our premier tourist attractions alongside Chatsworth and provides much economic benefit to the Derbyshire Dales, and our officers have been working with the Heights to try to get to a solution."
Councillors heard that construction of a new access way represented a significant business investment by the Heights of Abraham and presented an opportunity to create a high quality access solution befitting a tourist attraction of its national standing. It therefore wished to obtain the freehold interest in the land to ensure it is maintained to a standard that would be expected of the main gateway access to the operation.
Local ward member Councillor Garry Purdy told the meeting that the decision to close the railway crossing had resulted from videos posted on social media of children being allowed by parents to sit on the railway tracks at the Matlock Bath Station crossing.
"This decision threatened a billion pound business. It's been very worrying and I am very grateful that last minute cliff hanger meetings have sorted this matter out."
Fellow Masson ward member Councillor Joyce Pawley said:
"This is a reasonable solution to what has been a very difficult situation - one of major importance to the district."
Running alongside the river, the single track roadway where the new access will be created originally provided vehicular access to a now disused colour works site.
The District Council currently has no operational needs for the access road, which represents an ongoing maintenance liability. The meeting heard however that it made sense for the Council to maintain rights in the road should the colour works site or the river rights that run with the land be developed in the future.
Without a new access, closure of the level crossing would mean pedestrians being forced to make a circuitous detour out of the Station Car Park, crossing the road bridge over the River Derwent, along the A6 and up steps to cross the footbridge back across the River Derwent - a route not accessible to all, having narrow pavements and mixing pedestrians with vehicles entering and exiting the car park.
After the meeting, Andrew Pugh, Chairman of the Heights of Abraham, said:
“This District Council initiative has unlocked over half a million pounds of joint financial investment from Network Rail and The Heights of Abraham. We here at the Heights are very grateful to all parties for their support in creating a sustainable future for tourism in the area. When completed, this project will provide excellent public access for all.”
View the meeting debate below: