National Highways building bridges over infill threat

Chris Ames

Campaigners have welcomed ‘early signs’ that 2022 could see National Highways adopt ‘a more positive and collaborative approach’ to the Historical Railways Estate (HRE) following an apparent reprieve for a bridge in East Sussex.

Church Road bridge in Barcombe was one of a number of structures earmarked for infilling or demolition before ministers announced a ‘pause’ last summer.

Last month, the head of National Highways’ HRE programme stated in a letter to local campaign organiser Hazel Fell Rayner: ‘We do not intend to infill this structure’.

Ms Fell Rayner said: ‘We’re obviously delighted to hear that National Highways has listened to the views of residents and councillors, heard the strength of feeling locally and lifted the infill threat.

‘We now need to ensure that the bridge is repaired sympathetically - reflecting its position within our conservation area as a valued heritage asset - and prevent any reduction in the 20-tonne weight limit currently imposed on vehicles using it.

‘The needs of our farming community must be recognised and we remind council officers that National Highways has an obligation to deliver a capacity of 24 tonnes from this structure. That obligation must be enforced to avert any adverse impact.’

Graeme Bickerdike, a member of the campaign group the HRE Group, said: ‘Over the past few months, National Highways has established its Stakeholder Advisory Forum and developed a draft procedure for determining the most appropriate maintenance option for each structure.

‘Meanwhile, Sustrans has evaluated the active travel potential of the structures currently at risk from infill or demolition. Alongside the reprieve for Barcombe, these represent substantive steps in a better direction and we look forward to many other bridges being granted a stay of execution as a result.’


Referring to the infilling of a bridge at Great Musgrave in Cumbria (above), Mr Bickedike added: ‘Unfortunately the cultural vandalism at Great Musgrave will continue to hang like a millstone around National Highways’ neck until it does the right thing and removes the infill there.

‘There are however early signs that 2022 could see NH adopt a more positive and collaborative approach to the Historical Railways Estate. These are national assets and we need to derive the greatest possible benefit from them.’

A spokesperson for National Highways did not directly confirm that it would not infill the bridge but said it was working with Lewes District and East Sussex County to understand how the bridge/route may feed into Local Plan policies and also the management of the highway that crosses the bridge in terms of usage and weight restrictions.

The spokesperson added that National Highways has developed a new process for determining how major works on HRE structures will be decided, which is currently in draft but once finalised will be used to assess all structures requiring major work.

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