Infilling historic railway bridge in Barcombe is ‘wrecking-ball act which will cost tax-payer a fortune’

Members of the community in Barcombe are calling plans to infill a historic bridge ‘a wrecking-ball act’.

Tuesday, 5th October 2021, 5:43 pm
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The heritage railway bridge in Barcombe falls within a conservation area but has been in a state of some disrepair for many years.

National Highways’ has put forward a proposal to infill the bridge but residents are angry with the proposals and say the bridge must be saved.

Designed by civil engineer Frederick Banister, the bridge on Church Road, Barcombe was built in the early 1880s as part of a line connecting Lewes and East Grinstead. The Bluebell Railway now runs steam services on an 11-mile section further north and believes that “the remaining trackbed is a potentially valuable transport corridor which should be safeguarded”.

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The structure carries a narrow, minor road and is assessed as having a capacity of 24 tonnes. The brick parapets and wingwalls have been subject to movement for many years, with cracks recorded as long ago as 1994. Instead of carrying out further repairs, National Highways intends to bury the Victorian feat within an estimated 1,000 tonnes of aggregate and concrete.

Campaigners say there is anger that the scheme is being progressed under Permitted Development powers which leaves objectors without a voice.

Jonathan Scripps, local resident and campaigner, said: “The community’s views are being disregarded. The bridge is a heritage asset - connecting us with our past - and lies within Barcombe’s conservation area which is meant to ensure that the village’s special architectural and historic character is both preserved and enhanced.

“The engineering issues with the bridge have been known about for decades, but instead of undertaking appropriate repairs, National Highways has just stood back and watched. Infilling is an unnecessary wrecking-ball act which will cost the taxpayer a fortune and fails to recognise the structure’s importance.

“The use of Permitted Development powers is clearly intended to overcome the planning challenges that would be faced if the scheme’s many detrimental impacts were evaluated against the policies adopted in the Council’s Local Plan.”

Campaigners also say the landscape around the bridge is ecologically sensitive and the proposals would be detrimental to the woodland habitat.

Hélène Rossiter, National Highways head of Historical Railways Estate programme, said: “The Historical Railways Estate (HRE) is an important part of our industrial heritage. We continue to work closely with stakeholders to keep the estate and public safe, safeguard its future, ensure value for money for the taxpayer and re-use the assets wherever possible.

“Infilling of Barcombe Bridge has been paused to give more time for local authorities and interest groups to fully consider their local plans to benefit walking, cycling and heritage railways, and discussions are ongoing.”

National Highways has also told the Express that they will be carrying out ecological surveys on the bridge this month (October)To support any potential work on the structure in the future including any minor repairs, repointing or strengthening.

The HRE Group has been invited to join a new stakeholder advisory forum to review the future maintenance proposal.