The bridge carrying Millfield Road over the Marchburn is unadopted and owned by the Parish Council (PC), who have undertaken responsibility for its upkeep. However, Northumberland County Council (NCC) has an overall duty to ensure the safety of highway users on all roads, whether adopted or unadopted.
Prompted by a referral of the bridge to the Health & Safety Executive, NCC considered the situation regarding the bridge and imposed a temporary Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) prohibiting use by vehicles greater than 3 tonnes in weight or 2 m in width, whilst the PC considered the longer term future of the bridge. NCC’s Planning and Environment Committee decided to make this TRO permanent in May 2011. It can be revoked only if they are satisfied that the bridge has been strengthened sufficiently to allow the passage of heavier vehicles.
In response to this, the PC commissioned consulting engineers BT Bell to carry out a structural survey on the bridge. This revealed a significant amount of deterioration requiring urgent attention. The PC has authorized BT Bell to oversee the necessary remedial work. They are currently seeking quotations to carry out these works.
We expect this work to begin in June or July (for environmental reasons all work on the bridge piers has to take place during the summer months), and to take about four weeks. While the work is taking place it will be necessary to close the bridge completely to all traffic. We apologise in advance for any inconvenience this may cause.
Unfortunately these repairs will not allow us to remove the current width and weight restrictions on the bridge. The two outer beams supporting the roadway have been severely weakened by corrosion, and in the opinion of BT Bell would not safely support vehicles over 3 tonnes. The purpose of the current repairs is simply to stop the bridge deteriorating to the point where it becomes unsafe for any motor vehicle.
The long-term future of the bridge:
Over the last few months, the PC has also been discussing possible long-term options for the bridge with BT Bell. Four different options have been investigated:.
Option 1: demolish the existing bridge and replace it by a new bridge capable of carrying 44 tonnes. This would cost around £200,000. As before, the PC would be responsible for future maintenance – unless NCC could be persuaded to adopt both the bridge and the adjacent sections of Millfield Road. This would require Millfield Road to be brought up to adoptable standards, at a further cost of about £80,000.
Option 2: provide new balustrades for the bridge, restricting its effective width to 3 m (wide enough to allow passage of ambulances, fire engines and HGVs). This would mean that all traffic using the bridge was carried by the four relatively sound inner beams, but not the two severely corroded outer beams. This would allow the bridge to carry vehicles of up to 7.5 tonnes in safety. The estimated cost of this option is around £24,000; BT Bell are unwilling to say how long the bridge might last if modified in this way. Again, future maintenance would be the responsibility of the PC.
However, discussions with NCC have indicated that the current width restrictions would have to remain, because there is no other way to prevent heavier vehicles from using the bridge. They are not prepared to run the risk of major damage to the bridge or to vehicles that this could cause.
Option 3: close the bridge to all vehicular traffic (though the bridge itself would remain as a public right of way). This should significantly prolong the life of the bridge and, by making Millfield Road a cul-de-sac with “no through road signs”, mitigate the current problem of large vehicles attempting to use it as a through road and having to turn back. This would be the lowest cost option, costing less than £5,000. The PC would have responsibility for future maintenance of the public right of way, though this would probably not be excessive.
Option 4: replace the bridge with a box culvert. This would have similar implications to Option 1. BT Bell have not estimated a price for this option, but their researches suggest that this would be even more expensive to construct than a replacement bridge.
NB: All figures stated are based on costs provided to the PC in 2011.
In the short term, the PC has already authorized the repairs indicated above. This gives the village time (possibly several years) to reflect on what to do in the longer term. The PC’s view is that there is no benefit in pursuing either option 2 or 4. Option 2 appears to pose insuperable problems over enforcement of weight limits, and Option 4 offers no advantage over Option 1. In the long term, therefore, only two options appear to be realistic, though both have their problems:
Option 1: provide a new bridge capable of carrying all traffic, including heavy goods vehicles, at a cost of around £200,000. The PC could borrow this sum, but the cost of repaying the loan would be substantial and could only be met by making a very significant increase in the precept.
Option 3: close the bridge to vehicular traffic when it is judged to be no longer safe for vehicles. At this point, estimated to be around ten years’ time, the bridge would be restricted to pedestrians.
The decision will affect all of us. Even if you never use a new bridge, you will in effect be paying for it through an increase in your Council Tax, so the decision cannot be taken lightly. No decision about a new bridge will be taken without full consultation with the village. In the meantime, we welcome constructive comments and suggestions from any resident of the village. Please send any comments to our parish clerk Monica Anderton by completing the form below:[contact-form-7 404 "Not Found"]