PEOPLE have expressed their outrage at plans to fill a historic bridge with hundreds of tonnes of concrete and say it will impact wildlife.

A letter to National Highways has been signed by 176 people in Barcombe, near Lewes, in a bid to save the 140-year-old heritage bridge.

The letter was sent to Duncan Smith, National Highways’ acting executive director for operations, who has the final say on the bridge’s future.

The letter pleads with the company to stop plans to infill the Church Road bridge, and instead “conduct a repair that is sensitive to its heritage value and the needs of the local community and wildlife".

The Argus: The letter signed by 176 residents - Jonathan Scripps, one of the local campaigners.The letter signed by 176 residents - Jonathan Scripps, one of the local campaigners.

Residents say that the bridge is a "valued" local asset for both its history and role as a wildlife corridor.

There was an online backlash after a similar bridge in Cumbria, the great Musgrave Bridge, was filled with hundreds of tonnes of concrete for “safety reasons”.

The letter states that the bridge in Cumbria “stands as a monument to your organisation’s cultural vandalism and blinkered approach to eliminating liability.”

The bridge in Barcombe could be infilled under permitted development powers, which means Highways England could perform the work without needing to apply for planning permission.

Hazel Fell Rayner, Barcombe’s campaign organiser, said: “National Highways should not underestimate the strength of feeling in Barcombe. They seem determined to drive through their scheme, using permitted development powers to silence the community.

The Argus: Hazel Fell Rayner, Barcombe's campaign organiser.Hazel Fell Rayner, Barcombe's campaign organiser.

“The bridge is a valued local asset, both in terms of its history and important role as part of our wildlife corridor. Enveloping it in a thousand tonnes of aggregate and concrete would be a shocking act of environmental sabotage.”

The Barcombe residents’ letter comes after councillor Zoe Nicholson, leader of Lewes District Council, wrote to Grant Shapps, secretary of state for transport, demanding the “full and unequivocal cessation” of the infill policy that threatens historic railway bridges such as the Church Road bridge.

Cllr Nicholson said: “The government claimed to have put a stop on this deeply unpopular policy.

"Yet in Barcombe, there is clear evidence that Highways England is riding roughshod over any apparent pause in the programme and stealthily pushing ahead using their all-encompassing emergency powers, causing unnecessary destruction to nature and the countryside.

“I have asked the Secretary of State to urgently confirm a full and unequivocal cessation of the policy that leaves Highways England in no doubt whatsoever that they must stop and review their approach.”

The Argus: Barcombe BridgeBarcombe Bridge

Highways England said ecological surveys are taking place in October to support any potential work on the bridge in the future, including any minor repairs, repointing or strengthening.

Helene Rossiter, head of historical railways estate programme for Highways England, also said that the infilling of the bridge has been paused to "give more time for local authorities and local interest groups to fully consider" their plans.

She told The Argus: “The Historical Railways Estate (HRE) is an important part of our industrial heritage. We continue to work closely with stakeholders to keep the estate and public safe, safeguard its future, ensure value for money for the taxpayer and re-use the assets wherever possible.

“Infilling of Barcombe Bridge has been paused to give more time for local authorities and interest groups to fully consider their local plans to benefit walking, cycling and heritage railways, and discussions are ongoing.”

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