COUNTY planning chiefs have backed public opinion and ruled against controversial ramped bridge proposals for Wareham railway station.

More than 200 residents packed the Springfield Hotel, near Wareham, to hear Dorset County Council's (DCC) regulatory committee debate the plans, before members voted unanimously to shunt them into the sidings.

Residents, local politicians and campaigners have been fighting for years to safeguard the future of the station's existing surface level crossing, which Network Rail wants to close in favour of a ramped bridge on 'potential safety grounds'.

The proposals rejected by the committee, earlier today, were for the construction of new ramps, with a 1:12 gradient, on the station's existing pedestrian railway bridge.

However, more than 3,000 Wareham residents - around half the town's population - have signed petitions calling for the retention of the surface crossing. They have long argued its closure would effectively cut the town in half.

Just minutes before the final vote was cast at today’s regulatory committee, chairman Cllr David Jones signalled to a graphic of the planned bridge on a screen and said: "That isn't preserving the character of the station; that is ripping it to shreds."

Earlier in the meeting 25 residents and three councillors addressed the room.

Only representatives from Dorset Highways, the applicant, and Network Rail spoke in support of the scheme.

Cllr Jones explained: "After very careful debate, the committee judged that the balance of policy considerations were weighted in favour of refusal.

"We have made a decision today to refuse planning permission for this scheme because it would not enhance the character of the listed building status of the current footbridge and might encourage the use of cars by residents.

"We will ask Dorset Highways and Network Rail to go back to the drawing board and look at alternative options."

No evidence of any fatality or serious injury on the surface crossing has ever been provided since it was introduced in 1847

Speaking on behalf of Wareham Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group, which includes town councillors, local businesses and residents, Hilary Evans told those gathered: "The closure of Wareham level crossing is probably one of the biggest issues facing Wareham in the last 50 years."

She explained that half the town's population live north of the railway line, with the other half, shops, schools and services to the south.

"This proposal will directly affect the daily lives of thousands of residents.

"Many people here today will testify that a 1:12 ramp is too steep for them."

Meanwhile, Wareham resident Ralph Holmes described the proposed ramps as a "monstrosity."

He added: "Network Rail just seem determined to close as many level crossings as they can.

"If we applied their criteria to all of our roads, we'd all just have to stay indoors all day."

The current surface crossing, following safety improvement requirements in 2009, is manned by a security guard between 6am and 1am the following morning, when trains are scheduled to pass.