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Council leader accuses National Highways of ‘riding roughshod’ over bridge infilling pause


The leader of Lewes District Council has accused National Highways of “riding roughshod” over the government-enforced pause on its programme of infilling historic railway assets.

In a strongly-worded letter to transport secretary Grant Shapps, Lewes District Council leader Zoe Nicholson said that there “is clear evidence” that National Highways is “stealthily pushing ahead” with its bridge infilling programme.


Nicholson’s particular gripe comes in relation to a 140-year-old bridge in Barcombe. It is part of the Historical Railways Estate managed by National Highways on behalf of the DfT and comprises 3,800 bridges, tunnels and viaducts, including 77 listed structures.

A pause on the entire programme was put in place earlier in the year following a nationwide backlash at a bridge infilling carried out in Great Musgrave, Cumbria.


Despite the pause on the programme, National Highways can carry out the work if it deems a structure to be a danger to the public.


As reported last week, an email sent from a National Highways engineer to Lewes District Council – and seen by NCE – specifically describes the bridge as “not safe” and “now in a dangerous condition”.


The council and local campaign groups now fear that National Highways will carry out the infilling at Barcombe under emergency powers reserved to prevent harm to the public.

Nicholson said: "The government claimed to have put a stop on this deeply unpopular policy, yet in Barcombe there is clear evidence that Highways England [sic] is riding roughshod over any apparent pause in the programme and stealthily pushing ahead using their all-encompassing emergency powers, causing unnecessary destruction to nature and the countryside.


"I have asked the Secretary of State to urgently confirm a full and unequivocal cessation of the policy that leaves Highways England in no doubt whatsoever that they must stop and review their approach."


A National Highways spokesperson previously told NCE that planned work remains on pause and that only survey work will be carried out at the Barcombe site during October.

“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 head of Historical Railways Estate programme Hélène Rossiter added.


Despite this, campaigners claim that activity on site indicates infilling will take place as soon as possible.


“Over the past few days, National Highways has made contradictory claims about their plans, but the company’s actions on site - including the recent installation of bat exclusion measures - indicate an intention to go ahead with their preferred infill scheme as soon as they are able,” local campaigner Hazel Fell Rayner said.


“We will continue to campaign vigorously against this unwarranted act and value the support of Lewes District Council in opposing it in the strongest terms.”



There has been similar backlashes to planned works in West Scotland and the South Downs during the last six months.


Last week it also emerged that the estimated cost of reversing the infilling at Great Musgrave had more than tripled.


STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED: https://www.newcivilengineer.com/latest/council-leader-accuses-national-highways-of-riding-roughshod-over-bridge-infilling-pause-18-10-2021/

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