Highways England has come under more pressure over its proposals to demolish or infill more around 130 old railway bridges
The state-owned roads company manages the Historical Railways Estate of 3,200 bridges, viaducts and tunnels on behalf of the Department for Transport. Transport and environmental campaigners protested that some are important as parts of heritage trails and cycleways, and pointed out that future railway reopening plans may also depend on some of those which are at risk.
Leading the campaigners are HRE Group – an alliance of engineers, cycling campaigners and greenway developers. They say that no assessment is being made as to the strategic value of the affected structures for future transport provision.
Graeme Bickerdike, a member of The HRE Group, said:
“Supported by the DfT, the company is guilty of an assault on our great railway heritage and democratic process, pulling the rug from under those who are trying to build a better future for their communities.”
A petition against Highways England’s plans, launched by The HRE Group, has so far been signed by more than 12,300 people.
Made up of cross-party MPs, the House of Commons Transport Committee has added its voice to the protests, and is urging Highways England to rethink its plans.
Committee chair Huw Merriman written to Highways England acting chief executive Nick Harris and transport minister Baroness Charlotte Vere:
“We urge Highways England and the Department for Transport not to view the estate primarily as a risk to be minimized, but rather as assets to be preserved and enjoyed”
‘Many of these historic structures already have an identified use and many more have clear potential to be used in future"
“We understand the average cost of infilling is around £145,000 per bridge, whereas the costs of strengthening to increase the capacity of historic bridges can be much lower, at £20,000 to £40,000 per bridge”
‘We would like to know why it is better use of public money to infill, rather than strengthen, the bridges affected by the programme"
A Highways England spokesperson however added: “Our five-year plan includes only 15 demolitions, six of which are to remove redundant abutments and three of which have local authority approval. Infill or demolition is only considered on structures that are unsafe”
“In addition to our repair, strengthening and refurbishment work, we have plans to infill a small number of structures. Infills, some of which are only partial and retain pedestrian routes, aren’t permanent and are built in a way that allows for them to be reversed should organizations become interested in the structures future use”