Highways England has reversed its decision to infill an historic bridge in South-West Scotland, following pressure from local residents, councillors and members of a railway campaign group.
In April last year, Highways England contractor told the local authority of its intention to infill a disused bridge at Lochanhead, which spans the former Dumfries-Stranraer line.
Acting for Highways England, Jacobs told planners that “the arch barrel has open joints throughout” and infilling is needed to “remove the associated risk of structural collapse and harm to the public”.
Engineering works normally need planning consent, but a council officer mistakenly told Jacobs that the works “would be classed as a repair and do not require planning permission”.
However, following public outcry from locals and from engineering and railway groups, Highways England has confirmed that the bridge no longer faces infilling.
In an email, Highways England said: “We can confirm that we are planning to repair the former overbridge - not infill it.
“We have been in communication with the team carrying out the Strategic Transport Projects Review and are waiting for further information which will inform the nature of the repairs that we take forward.”
A Highways England spokesperson added: “We are delighted to have a plan in place for Lochanhead bridge which will support the vision for the Dumfries/Stranraer line being brought back into use as an operational railway to improve freight connectivity.
“Our preference for every structure earmarked for future use is to help make that a reality, and by working closely with Dumfries and Galloway Council we’ve established that the best way we can assist is to carry out repairs.
“Bridges like Lochanhead have a wider social value, and as we’re not funded to re-purpose them, we welcome the opportunity to transfer these structures to other parties who are better placed to finance or rekindle the routes.”
The structure is part of the Historical Railways Estate managed by Highways England on behalf of the DfT and comprises 3,800 bridges, tunnels and viaducts, including 77 listed structures.
Jacobs acts as the 'sole provider' (designer) for the Historical Railways Estate and has been recently reappointed for another seven years. Six contractors will support Jacobs in carrying out any work, including Dyer & Butler and Balfour Beatty.
According to The HRE Group – an alliance of engineers, sustainable transport advocates and greenway developers – the bridge is one of 115 disused railway structures programmed for infilling by Highways England, with 15 others due for demolition.
Highways England contests this number and instead states that its five-year plan only includes nine bridge demolitions, the removal of six redundant abutments and 69 full or partial infills.
HRE Group spokesperson Graeme Bickerdike added: “Whilst the apparent reprieve of Lochanhead bridge is very welcome, it serves only to demonstrate the deceit Highways England has been perpetuating for many months about its infilling programme.
“There are no meaningful engineering, public safety or cost grounds for the damage being inflicted on 134 Victorian structures and we share the view of many civil engineers who have expressed embarrassment and shame at Highways England’s vandalism. The company is pursuing a destructive policy in its own narrow interests, without any consideration of the wider social, economic, environmental and heritage consequences.
“These valuable historic assets should never have been placed in Highways England’s hands.”
Highways England has faced a nationwide backlash to its bridge infilling programme after images of the Great Musgrave Bridge in Cumbria were published by national newspapers and shared widely on social media.
If the application is denied, Highways England could be forced to remove the 1,000t of concrete poured beneath the 159 masonry arched bridge.