NETWORK Rail has issued an ultimatum to Thurrock Council over plans to build a walkway under Grays train station – build it or risk losing the level crossing.

As well as the underpass, plans to restore Grays to its former glory include an overhaul of the station and the creation of a town square on the north side of the railway line.

However, Network Rail has said the council must commit to the proposals by January or it will close the crossing, which it says is one of the most hazardous in the region, and build a second footbridge in its place.

With 2,000 people due to move into the new South Essex College campus in the town in September, the plans – estimated to cost up to £15 million – are seen as being vital to the integration of the college with the rest of Grays.

The council’s planning and regeneration committee is keen to see the proposals given the goahead, and has recommended the council’s cabinet approves them later this month.

An underpass would provide free-flow access between both sides of the High Street.

The town square would provide the opportunity for alfresco dining, landscaped greenery and a centrepiece water feature. The square would also provide a space for outdoor entertainment.

Matthew Essex, head of regeneration at the council, said it was critical the council showed Network Rail it was serious about the proposals.

He added: “This is a huge opportunity and we don’t want to lose it now.

“National Rail is deeply concerned about the effect of the college opening, but we have held positive talks with them.

“There’s little point in bringing 2,000 students to Grays if there is little access to the north end of the high street.”

A Network Rail spokesperson said discussions were ongoing with the council over the proposals.