National Highways told it must reverse burial of Victorian railway bridge | Transport

The Government’s roads agency has been told it must reverse the burial of another Victorian railway bridge, or seek permission for it, as the extent of the agency’s “cultural vandalism” has emerged.

Selby District Council has told National Highways (NH) it must apply for planning permission if it wants to keep hundreds of tonnes of aggregate and concrete the agency used to lower the arch of a 175-year-old bridge over the Rudgate Road near Newton Kyme, North Yorkshire.

The condition of the bridge after National Highways filled it with hundreds of tons of concrete and aggregate. Photo: Graeme Bickerdike/The HRE Group

Campaigners say the bridge is one of 51 historic railway bridges filled in by the agency since 2013 on dubious grounds at a cost of more than £8m.

They include the controversial filling of the 1862 bridge at Great Musgrave in Cumbria, which led to a national outcry and condemnation of the NH for “cultural vandalism”.

In June, the Eden district council’s planning committee unanimously decided to refuse NH retrospective planning permission for the burying of the bridge. The decision means that NH must remove the concrete by October next year.

NH now faces the prospect of also being forced to reverse the infill of Rudgate Road Bridge – which spans a disused railway line between Wetherby and Tadcaster – and is now part of a proposed cycleway extension.

Like the Great Musgrave project, the Rudgate Road Bridge was filled in by contractors for what was then Highways England in the spring of 2021. The £133.00 project was carried out under so-called permitted development rights, which are only meant to temporarily solve urgent problems.

A 2018 inspection report recommended £1,000 worth of minor repairs to make the bridge safe, according to documents uncovered by the HRE Group – an alliance of engineers, walkers and cyclists campaigning to protect historic railway structures and routes.

The bridge, which has a narrow lane with a weight limit of less than 3 tonnes, was assessed as having the capacity to carry 32 tonnes. In an attempt to justify the infill, NH argued that the bridge posed an “ongoing and increasing risk to public safety”.

The filled-in bridge blocks the preferred route for a proposed extension of a national cycleway from Wetherby to Tadcaster. The current cycle path from Wethery along the old railway line ends at Newton Kyme, 540 miles north-west of the bridge.

Last month NH claimed there was no requirement to apply for separate planning consent for the infill. But Selby district council confirmed that they have told NH that they must apply for permission if they want to keep the infill. NH has until next month to respond.

Graeme Bickerdike, a member of the HRE group, said: “This is what happens when an agency with a dubious culture is allowed to pursue its destructive policy of liability reduction without proper scrutiny: it believes it can act with impunity and abuse laws for their own convenience.

“The value of legacy infrastructure increases as we develop safer active travel routes – encouraging people to walk and cycle both for exercise and connectivity – and deal with the implications of rising inflation where new structures become less affordable.

“We need to take care of what we already have, not inflict the kind of damage that inevitably comes with transporting huge amounts of quarried material and dumping it in often sensitive landscapes.”

The agency is responsible for the maintenance of 3,100 disused railway bridges. The bridge filling program was put on hold last year, then replaced with a system to assess each proposed scheme.

NH has been contacted for comment.

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