A campaign by Sopwell residents to keep a level crossing open to the public has won the backing of Hertfordshire County Council.

Without the Cottonmill crossing Sopwell village would be cut in two by the Abbey railway line – forcing residents to make a lengthy detour.

Now the council is set to write to Network Rail, calling on them to halt any plans to close the crossing and to install additional safety measures – such as warning lights.

They took the decision at a meeting of the full council on Tuesday (November 27), where they were presented with a 1508-signature petition from Sopwell residents.

Backing a motion proposed by local Liberal Democrat councillor Sandy Walkington, they agreed that closing the crossing would be “wholly disproportionate”.

They will call on Network Rail to halt any current plans to close the crossing, without any further analysis.

And they will call on them to install and assess the impact of additional safety measures before making any application to close the crossing.

“None of us believe that consideration has been properly given to the risks of closing this crossing and the impact on some current users, who will not be able to use the proposed much longer alternative routes simply because they are elderly or infirm,” said Cllr Walkington.

“That is why we are asking Network Rail to go back to the drawing board and think again.”

Cllr Walkington said most of the instances of “alleged unsafe behaviours” that had been highlighted at the crossing related to people wearing headphones.

And he said that was why they were asking Network Rail to consider the installation of warning lights – which would help deaf people too.

It has been estimated the crossing is used by more than 1000 pedestrians and cyclists every day – as a vital link to schools, work and shops based on the other side of the track.

And presenting the petition at the meeting resident Janet Charles told councillors that closure of the crossing would be “devastating”.

“It’s a lifeline to local residents and closing it would cut the community in two,” she said.

“We’re talking about access to schools, the financial impact to local shops, and the impact to those with mobility issues, who cannot manage a longer diversion.

“Sopwell is one of the more deprived wards in St Albans and has the lowest level of car usage. This pedestrian and cycle route is crucial.”

Cllr Walkington said closure would push pedestrians onto narrow pavements that run alongside busy roads.

Or, he said, it would force some families back into cars, at a time when the council was trying to move to alternative modes of transport.

Meanwhile Cllr Phil Bibby, executive member for highways and the environment, told the meeting he had “great sympathy” with local residents.

He noted that the crossing had been identified as one of the most dangerous by Network Rail, but he said that this related to behaviour such as not removing headphones.

And he said that he was supportive of residents and council officers working together with Network Rail in a bid to find an acceptable solution.