Highway England could have been built to remove hundreds of tons of concrete, which it used to fill in a Victorian arch after it was branded as “cultural vandalism”.
The Roads Agency had filled the Great Musgrave Bridge in Cumbria with unsightly concrete and aggregate.
It is the first structure to be filled as part of a project involving more than 100 historic structures across England.
The filling of the arch by Highway England (HE) has been described as “cultural vandalism” by Labor’s Richard Faulkner at a Lord’s debate earlier this month.
After informing the Eden District Council that it was necessary to “prevent further deterioration of the bridge” and to “remove the associated risk of structural collapse”, HE acted under its permitted development rights.
The council announced in June that it was “preparing to work to fill the bridge at Great Musgrave.”
But this week the council has told Her Majesty that it needs to apply for retrospective planning permission to plan within the next year. If the plan is denied, he must restore the bridge to its former condition by removing the concrete.
HE – which manages the Historic Railway Estate of 3,100 unused railway structures for the Department of Transportation – has confirmed its intention to seek retrospective planning permission.
Campaigners hope the planning permission, which has a May 2022 deadline for submissions and objections, will thwart the agency’s plans to fill other Victorian rail structures.
The HRE Group – a coalition of engineers, sustainable transportation advocates and greenway developers – said the bridge is one of 115 unused railway structures earmarked for filling by HE, with another 15 due for demolition.
HRE group member Graeme Bickerdike described Transportation Minister Charlotte Vere’s description of the Great Musgrave Bridge as unsafe, “either a deliberate attempt to deceive or a display of incompetence”.
HE’s own engineers claimed that the bridge posed “no significant risk” and that they sought to retrofit the brickwork to reinforce the bridge at a cost of £5,000, compared to the £124,000 cost of filling it with concrete. was recommended – said Mr. Bickerdike, according toGuardian.
In a petition, campaigners claimed that Baroness Vere had “misrepresented” the process, suggesting that Highway England had consulted on the concrete filling move.
HRE Group wrote on Wednesday: “[Baroness Vere] suggested that Highway England had consulted the Eden Valley and Stanmore Railway about an infilling plan – which was not the case – and insisted that work was necessary as the bridge deck could collapse suddenly. The structure was, of course, absolutely fine.
“But it’s a sign of the shabby culture we have to fight against. Highway England has spent the last six months perpetuating deceit about their fill schedule.
“It is quite a pity that ministers believe whatever nonsense they say instead of asking proper questions.”
Defending the decision to fill with concrete, Baroness Vere said: “The structure was weak, potentially causing the deck of the bridge to collapse suddenly … Highways England decided to proceed on grounds of public safety.”
Richard Marshall, HE’s Historic Railway Estate Director, said: “The bridge was deteriorating, and had no weight restrictions, meaning it could be used by vehicles of any weight.
“The support provided by filling the arch removes the risk of the bridge deck failing.”
He added: “If the land and Eden River crossing issues are resolved, we would be happy to work with any rail group and local authority to remove the infill at no cost to them.”
Grepps Bridge near Saltash, Cornwall, designed by renowned Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, is set to be filled.
Last September, HE England told Cornwall Council that the bridge is damp and “there is calcite deposits throughout the arch barrel” and “there is standing water under the structure.”