Highways England could have to remove CONCRETE used to fill arches

Highways England could be forced to remove tons of CONCRETE used to fill arches beneath 159-year-old Victorian railway bridge after being told it DIDN’T have planning permission

  • Eden District Council in Cumbria told Highways England it didn’t have planning permission for the scheme 
  • If planning is refused, the agency will have to restore bridge to its state before the infill began in late May
  • Highways England had argued no permission was needed because it was part of a maintenance programme
  • But this week the council confirmed it had not given government agency permission for project to proceed

Highways England could be forced to strip away tons of concrete used to fill the arches beneath a 159-year-old Victorian railway bridge after being told it did not have planning permission. 

In a major boost for campaigners who decried the move as ‘cultural vandalism’, Eden District Council in Cumbria told the government’s roads authority that it had to apply for retrospective planning permission for the scheme in Great Musgrave. 

If planning is refused, the agency will have to restore the bridge to its state before the infill began at the end of May, with all 1,000 tonnes of concrete removed. 

Last year, Highways England wrote to the council arguing that no planning permission was needed for the works because it was part of a maintenance programme, and the council raised no objection. 

But this week it confirmed it had not given permission for the project to proceed, the Guardian reported. 

Activists will now hope the move will call a halt to the agency’s plans to fill in more than 100 other Victorian railway structures, including a bridge in Saltash, Cornwall, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel.   

Railway campaigners have criticised Highways England after it filled in a historic railway bridge with concrete. Pictured: the bridge at Great Musgrave in Cumbria after being infilled by the Government body which has cited safety reasons for the work

Campaigners branded the project a ‘scandalous wrecking ball’ and claimed it would effectively destroy any chances of turning the bridge (pictured) into a greenway – pieces of land, often used for recreation and pedestrian and bicycle traffic

Graeme Bickerdike, 55, from Wakefield, West Yorkshire, a spokesman for campaign group The Historical Railways Estate (HRE), had branded the initiative a ‘scandalous wrecking ball’.

And he told the Guardian today: ‘It will come as a relief to disfranchised stakeholders that they will belatedly get the opportunity to express their views on this unwarranted infilling scheme.

‘The requirement for planning permission should have been recognised from the outset. Hundreds of tonnes of aggregate and concrete were used to bury the bridge, with no scrutiny of the heritage, environmental, ecological, transport and sustainable development implications.’

The Eden Valley railway and Stainmore railways, which run north and south of the 159-year-old bridge, had long hoped to unite their tracks to attract tourists.

Pictured: Great Musgrave bridge in Cumbria pictured before being infilled by Highways England

Highways England said infilling was needed to ‘prevent further deterioration of the bridge from occurring and remove the associated risk of structural collapse and harm to the public’.

But documents obtained by the two railways revealed inspectors had no concerns about the bridge’s condition.

They added that £5,000 worth of work would have increased its capacity to 40 tonnes and made it safe for any vehicle to pass over – while infilling cost a whopping £124,000.

The bridge is one of 134 sites due to be demolished or infilled around the country. The UK’s developing network of foot and cycle routes has brought new life to many old railways over the past 50 years.

Pictured: Great Musgrave bridge in Cumbria pictured during being infilled by Highways England contractors

This comes as the Government has pledged £2 billion over five years to deliver new infrastructure to promote these changes.

But the campaigners have claimed Highways England, who have been entrusted to manage 3,200 disused railway structures, plan to destroy hundreds of them – compromising future greenway schemes. 

The Queensbury Tunnel in Bradford, West Yorkshire, is another structure which was due to be infilled as part of Highway England’s strategy.

The 1.4-mile tunnel built in 1870 has been part of a mounting campaign to transform it into one of Europe’s longest underground cycles to connect Bradford and Halifax.

Pictured: The 159 year old bridge which has been infilled with stone as part of a strategy for maintaining the roadway

But those plans were scuppered by Highways England, who began work on burying the disused tunnel at a projected cost of £545,000 according to the campaigners.

Preparatory work, which is done to ensure it is safe for the infilling process to begin, was due to last four months – but the project has hit its 1,000th day and seen costs soar to more than £7.5million, according to the HRE Group.

Highways England contests the figures, and claims that so far £5million has been spent. 

Speaking about the Great Musgrave bridge, Richard Marshall, Highways England’s historical railways estate director, told the Guardian: ‘The bridge was deteriorating, and no weight restriction was in place, meaning it could be used by vehicles of any weight. 

Highways England have said work they have done will preserve the structure and can be reversed in the future if necessary

‘The support provided by infilling the arch removes the risk of the bridge deck failing. Our work has preserved the structure. The bridge remains intact and supported.’

Highways England said there was anecdotal evidence and damage to the parapets which suggests bigger, heavier vehicles are using the bridge.

It insisted this made the need to start work on the bridge urgent as the structure was weak, potentially causing the bridge deck to fall suddenly.

Highways England said it last repointed the arch in 2012 but in 2020 it identified mortar loss up to 170mm in the bridge arch and increasing downward movement of the masonry forming it. 

The body added expert engineers are working to assess, repair, strengthen and refurbish more than 3,000 structures

It said representatives met Eden Valley Railway Company and a local councillor at a nearby bridge in October 2019 and Railway Paths Limited in January 2021. 

Highways England added a team of expert engineers are working to assess, repair, strengthen and refurbish more than 3,000 structures in the estate.

It insisted its five-year plan only includes nine bridge demolitions, the removal of six redundant abutments and 69 full or partial infills. 

It added suitable schemes for 46 bridges from a list of 115 remain in development and will be shaped by feedback regarding plans to re-purpose or re-use these structures.

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