Battle over bridge infill set for Planning Inspectorate showdown

10/10/2023
Chris Ames

National Highways has said it is planning to appeal a local decision that could force the road operator to reverse another infill from a bridge on its Historical Railways Estate (HRE).

Last week, King’s Lynn and West Norfolk Borough Council rejected the government-owned company’s retrospective application for planning permission to keep the infill at St Andrew’s Lane bridge at Congham, Norfolk.

National Highways infilled the bridge in the spring of 2021 under permitted development rights intended for immediate, temporary works in emergency situations.

The company has previously told Highways that as the council did not object it assumed that it would remain permanently. However, the council asked National Highways to apply for retrospective planning permission, which has now been refused on the recommendation of officers.

A planning officer’s report had recommended refusal due to conflicts with council policies relating to heritage and landscape, and similar provisions within the National Planning Policy Framework.

Hélène Rossiter, head of the HRE at National Highways, said: ‘We note the decision made by the planning committee.

‘While we respect the views expressed, we do not feel that the decision adequately reflects the safety concerns we have for Congham Road bridge and are planning to ask the Planning Inspectorate to review it on appeal. Decisions we made at this site were driven first and foremost by safety.’

National Highways said the bridge had experienced ‘issues with fractures’ from as far back as 1984 and that by the time it took it over the structure ‘was in a very poor condition, and was showing signs of ongoing movement, which led us to infill’.

Infilling works took place 17 months after National Highways’ consultants, Jacobs, told the council in October 2019 that Congham bridge represented ‘an ongoing and increasing risk to public safety’ and was proposed for infilling under permitted development rights.

According to campaigners at the HRE Group, the bridge was the only surviving example of a structure built entirely using a modular concrete system developed by the eminent civil engineer William Marriott.

The HRE group accused National Highways of misrepresenting evidence about the state of the bridge, arguing that although its consultants informed planning officers that the structure’s ‘edge girders’ - holding up the parapets - only had a capacity of 7.5 tonnes they did not mention that the girders supporting the road had been assessed as having a 40-tonne capacity.

HRE Group spokesperson Graeme Bickerdike said: ‘The risks presented by this bridge - which National Highways has misrepresented - could have been managed through repairs and the installation of crash barriers to protect the parapets, following dialogue with the local highway authority. Instead, the company’s response was characteristically disproportionate.’

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