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Work on world famous bridge ahead of funding bid


Jun 2, 2017

Detailed investigation work is getting underway ahead of proposed improvements to a world famous bridge spanning the River Tweed between England and Scotland.

Northumberland County Council, Scottish Borders Council and the ‘Friends of Union Chain Bridge’  are working together on an ambitious £8m project to safeguard the future of the Union Chain Bridge near Berwick – the world’s oldest single span suspension bridge still open to traffic.

The internationally significant bridge, constructed in 1820 and spanning the River Tweed on the Anglo-Scottish border requires urgent conservation and engineering repairs to secure its future. It has been on Historic England’s ‘Heritage at Risk’ Register since 2013.

A funding bid for the restoration is now being prepared for the Heritage Lottery Fund, with a maximum of £5m available towards the bulk of the work.

The County Council’s Cabinet will next month consider recommendations to contribute funding over three years towards the scheme, with both Northumberland and Scottish Borders Council ultimately contributing towards the project. Other stakeholders will also be making significant contributions.

Ahead of this, site investigation work is getting underway on the bridge from June 26 for up to four weeks, which will mean the road will be closed to vehicles from July 3 on weekdays for a fortnight.

The investigation work is important in providing a greater understanding of the status and condition of the bridge – and allowing a more robust bid to be submitted to the Heritage Lottery Fund.

There will be local diversions in place for traffic during the week, the bridge will be open to pedestrians and cyclists at all times and to vehicles at weekends.

Engineers have already spoken with local parish councils, nearby businesses and other key stakeholders and are speaking to the Hutton and Paxton community council this week.

Councillor Glen Sanderson, Cabinet member for environment and local services, said: “The Union Chain Bridge is of international significance but its condition has been of growing concern for a number of years.

“Along with our colleagues in Scotland we are committed to safeguarding its future and status, both as a key transport link and as a contributor to the local tourism economy.

“The site investigation work is vital ahead of any major project starting and engineers will be working to keep disruption to a minimum throughout.”

The bridge itself is a single suspension span of 137m of timber construction supported from wrought iron chains by wrought iron hanger bars. If these vital repairs are not undertaken, the bridge would ultimately close to vehicles, losing its World status as the oldest surviving suspension bridge carrying traffic, causing serious loss to the local community.

Councillor Gordon Edgar, Scottish Borders Council’s Executive Member for Roads and Infrastructure, said: “I am pleased we are seeing progress in the bid to retain the Union Chain Bridge as the world’s oldest single span suspension bridge still used by traffic.

“The iconic crossing has provided a vital link between Scotland and England for almost 200 years, and we want that to remain the case.

“The short-term closure of the bridge to vehicles will cause some inconvenience but will provide important information for its long-term future.”

Robbie Hunter, Chairman of the Friends of the Union Chain Bridge said:  “The Friends of the Union Chain Bridge are delighted to hear of the continued significant financial support from both Northumberland County Council and Scottish Borders Council towards the restoration of the bridge, which is a unique part of the UK’s engineering history.

“However, the success of the project is reliant on receiving HLF funding  and the Friends with their large community support, on both sides of the Border and internationally, will continue to lobby hard to ensure the success of the project, with the aim of restoration underway in time for its Bicentenary in 2020. It would be an unforgivable tragedy if we failed to save this engineering icon.”

Northumberland County Council’s Cabinet will discuss the report on the bridge on July 11.

By Emily