It submerged a 1862 bridge arch at Great Musgrave, near Kirby Stephen, in 1,644 tonnes of gravel and concrete. It was accused of “cultural vandalism” in the House of Lords, and the outcry prompted the government to pause NH’s plans to infill dozens of other Victorian bridges across England.
The infilling of the 8.4m single span masonry arch bridge was carried out by Amco Giffen on behalf of National Highways between May and June last year. It has since sparked controversy, with local campaign groups calling for the work to be reversed and engineers expressing “shame” in their profession after images of the infilling were published in national media outlets.
The agency’s application for retrospective planning permission from Eden district council for Great Musgrave work received 911 letters of objection and only two letters in support.
In his formal report, the council’s assistant development director Fergus McMorrow concludes the “the retrospective proposal results in considerable harm to the visual appearance of the bridge as a single span arch structure and fails to complement or enhance the area or protect features or characteristics of local importance, as such the works cause less than substantial harm to a non designated heritage asset”.
The following points outline the basis of the objections received:The bridge is structurally sound and there is no benefit to infilling it
The surveys of the bridge structure fail to demonstrate a valid case for the infilling works
The total infill of the bridge is an extreme and unjustifiable approach to manage a historic structure by a public organisation who is entrusted with being custodians of the nation’s Historic Railways Estate
National Highways have been dishonest in over stating the issues to indicate an emergency existed, and the powers of permitted development in such an emergency situation has been used to circumvent the planning process
Loss of a local industrial heritage structure/asset which demonstrates unique railway architecture specific to the area
The development affects the two preserved heritage railways (Eden Valley and Stainmore) preventing them reuniting, which will lead to a negative impact on local tourism and the local economy
The infill prevents the future use of the bridge for sustainable travel means ie footpaths, cycle routes
Loss of wildlife corridor
The infill is not in-keeping with the area and therefore, appears as an incongruous addition adversely affecting the visual aesthetics of the area
The materials used for the infilling are disproportionate and entirely inappropriate and has resulted in an eyesore which does not enhance the significance of a nondesignated heritage Victorian bridge or its setting
The works are considered as an act of vandalism
To allow the infill to stay would set a dangerous precedent for future similar developments
The proposal is contrary to National and Local Policies
The cost of maintaining the bridge is trivial compared to the cost of reopening it once it has been infilled
A report by masonry bridge specialists Bill Harvey Associates concluded that the bridge was not weak at the time of infill, presented no threat to public safety and to suggest that it was at risk of collapse was “preposterous”.
The planning report said NH had submitted no evidence to justify the project or the costs involved.
The report said: “It would ultimately have been more cost-effective to directly repair and strengthen the bridge compared to the cost of infilling, removing the infill, then repair and strengthen.”
The report noted that infilling the bridge, over a disused railway line, had “seriously compromised” plans to reopen the railway and link vintage lines between Warcop and Kirkby Stephen in the Eden valley.
Despite widespread criticism, National Highways has always stood by its decision to infill the bridge. An internal review of the Great Musgrave bridge infilling carried out at the end of last year ruled that the work was “necessary”.
Last month, National Highways head of Historical Railways Estate programme Hélène Rossiter claimed that the “infill was crucial to the safety of the public, and making future use of the structure viable".
Should National Highways be ordered to remove the infill, it has drawn up a list of five potential strengthening options.
The bridge is part of the Historical Railways Estate managed by National Highways on behalf of the DfT and comprises 3,100 bridges, tunnels and viaducts, including 77 listed structures.
Jacobs acts as the “sole provider” (designer) for the Historical Railways Estate and has recently been reappointed for another seven years. Six contractors support Jacobs in carrying out any work, including Dyer & Butler and Balfour Beatty.
Graeme Bickerdike, a member of The HRE Group which is campaigning against National Highways’ programme of bridge infilling and demolition, said: “£124K of taxpayers’ money was effectively flushed down the toilet whilst the bridge was needlessly buried in 1,600t of stone and concrete, with obvious environmental impacts.”
He added: “We urge Eden District Council’s planning committee to accept the officer’s recommendation and instruct National Highways to restore the bridge to its previous good state. A line has to be drawn under the loss of these historic structures, the value of which is becoming ever greater as we recognise the social and economic benefits of developing new sustainable transport routes.”
Following the Great Musgrave fallout, National Highways has drawn up a new way of assessing abandoned rail bridges and tunnels within its control. The new way of working will see decisions on major works planned for the Historical Railways Estate reviewed in collaboration with experts from across the heritage, environmental and active travel sector who have been selected to form a stakeholder advisory forum.
The forum includes the Department for Transport (DfT), Sustrans, Railway Paths Ltd, Railway Heritage Trust, The HRE Group, Heritage Railway Association, Natural England, Historic England (also representing Cadw), Historic Scotland and ADEPT.