PRESS RELEASE FROM HRE GROUP: Friday 30th July 2021
Government pauses bridge infilling schemes
Today, the Government published a progress report, Gear Change: One Year On, reviewing efforts to encourage and facilitate safe walking and cycling.
Page 25 of this report states that the Government has paused Highways England’s infilling/demolition of disused railway bridges and tunnels pending the establishment of “a formalised framework and engagement process for these structures to understand, in each case, whether there is a realistic prospect of it being used for active travel or other transport purposes in future”.
The HRE Group – an alliance of engineers, sustainable transport advocates and greenway developers – has been fighting Highways England’s plans to put 134 structures beyond use without a proper appraisal of their potential and value.
Graeme Bickerdike, a member of The HRE Group, said: “Today’s intervention by the Government is a welcome step in the right direction. The value of our disused railway infrastructure to help deliver social and economic benefit is widely recognised, but Highways England continues to view it as a liability, managing the associated risks disproportionately.
“The safeguarding of structures with the potential to play future transport roles is vital and, in this context, we expect Highways England to restore the bridge at Great Musgrave, Cumbria, which it vandalised in an act of reckless opportunism without consulting the Eden Valley and Stainmore railways who need it to connect their operations. The Department for Transport must also review its policy of banning heritage railways from taking ownership of legacy structures despite the sector having carefully looked after hundreds of them for decades.
“And what about the bridges that have no immediate potential for rail or active travel use? Should Highways England be allowed to wreck structures needed by landowners to access their property? Should they be sabotaging the feats of Isambard Kingdom Brunel? Should they be trampling over communities who see their local bridge as a historic asset? Should they be blocking wildlife corridors and blighting landscapes with concrete?
“The proposed review needs to be much broader, also encompassing the heritage, environmental and economic value of these structures, not just issues around transport.
“After seven months of damage and deceit, Highways England needs to start being open, honest and collaborative, working positively with stakeholders to deliver every possible advantage from our existing infrastructure assets.”