National Highway loses battle of Musgrave Bridge

Look what they did to Great Musgrave Bridge [all photos ©The HRE Group]

Last year National Highways prompted an outcry when it infilled Great Musgrave Bridge with 1,600 tonnes of structural fill and foamed concrete at a cost of £124,000.

The bridge is an 8.45-metre single span, sandstone masonry arch bridge constructed in 1862 to carry the B6259 over the former Eden Valley Railway.

The action wrecked hopes of linking the Eden Valley and Stainmore railways to create an 11-mile tourist line between Appleby and Kirkby Stephen.

It later emerged, through campaigning by the HRE Group, that the bridge was not at risk of collapse and National Highways should have applied to the council for permission for the works.

A retrospective planning application was turned down by Eden Council yesterday (16th June) and the concrete infill must be excavated and removed.

It will now have to spend £431,000 to remove the concrete.

National Highways’ head of the Historical Railways Estate programme, Hélène Rossiter, said: “We respect Eden District Council’s decision regarding our planning application to retain the works at Great Musgrave, and will not be appealing. We have listened to the feedback on this issue and earlier this year amended our processes to ensure full planning permission is sought before carrying out work like this in the future.

“Our new process of managing the estate, which has full stakeholder engagement, means we will review each structure against a range of criteria, not only for repurposing but also for heritage or ecological value. We will also no longer consider the infilling of any structures as part of our future plans, unless there is absolutely no alternative.”

Richard Bowker, former chairman and chief executive of the Strategic Rail Authority, said: “I’ve never been big on ‘and now heads must roll’ but on this occasion, at least, the CEO of National Highways must formally apologise as well as scrap this policy of unwarranted vandalism.”

How the bridge looked before the work
How the bridge looked before the work

Graham Bickerstaffe of the HRE Group said: “They [National Highways] said that ‘if we are allowed to keep the infill, we will spend the £400,000-plus on legacy rail assets elsewhere in the Eden Valley to help the EVR [Eden Valey Railway] open their line to Appleby’, which suggests to me that this is an organisation that still doesn’t understand the responsibility that comes with spending taxpayers’ money – our money.

“There are still questions to answer; about culture, about how they view the value of infrastructure. But today feels like a line has been drawn and let’s hope that from the wreckage of all this emerges a better future for assets that have heritage value, ecological value and sustainable transport value. These are assets that we need to make the best use of as we emerge into a new era in the 2020s.”

The bridge today. [This image was supplied by National Highways
The bridge today. [This image was supplied by National Highways

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