The Bridge - Way Forward

Finchingfield Bridge: The Way Forward
To find a way to resolve the issue about the bridge, meetings took place at County Hall in January and March this year. At those meetings were Cllr Ian Grundy, Cabinet Member for Highways, Cllr Graham Butland, Leader of Braintree District Council and myself. Also present were two senior Highway executives.

At the first meeting, it was agreed to put aside the 2016 proposal to build an additional bridge across the pond and retain the existing bridge as a pedestrian walkway and instead concentrate discussion on either repairing the existing bridge with a temporary bridge in place during the works or with a road closure and diversions.

Although the temporary bridge option might be the obvious choice locally, it would come with some unwelcome consequences that had not been discussed previously. The temporary bridge would to have roads constructed to connect it to the existing highway before the work to the bridge could start and the greens would need to be reinstated after the works had finished. A plan produced in 2015 by Highways and seen by me for the first time this year, showed what this would involve. The village green at the Causeway junction would have to be entirely removed to make way for roadway, half the green at the bottom of Church Hill would be lost to tarmac and part of the green on the west side of the pond would have to be dug up in order to create the roadway connections during the works.

The alternative option would involve a road closure and create considerable inconvenience for many during the works on the bridge.

The initial view on the two options was sought from eleven local businesses, the health centre and school. The overwhelming view was that there was no desire to see the village centre become a building site for nine months or longer. Some of those spoken to felt that local trade would be damaged by either option. The consensus view, and one shared by the parish council, was that the works on the bridge should be done in the minimum time possible and that ways should be sought to alleviate problems a road closure would give rise to.

Reducing the impact of a road closure had already been a major part of the discussions with Highways at the meetings and on 30th April the Highways team presented progress on these issues to parish, district and county councillors.

What was agreed as a way forward at the April meeting was that the existing bridge would be removed and replaced by a new bridge on the same site and it would have the same iconic appearance as the current bridge. This would allow some of the work to take place off-site. Although a bridge has been in place for hundreds of years, it is not the bridge that is there now, and as this bridge was widened during the last century the side of the bridge we see would date from then.

The work would take place in summer months as it would be less prone to weather conditions. Also, the pond would have less water and the school and school buses would be less affected. The probable date is 2019, but this is subject to legal, planning and budget approvals.

The carriageway would not be widened, although the new bridge would be wider to allow raised hard standing to be installed either side of the carriageway to protect the parapets and building from vehicle damage. This would add about four feet to the internal width of the bridge.

The maximum time the works would take, including contingencies, is twenty weeks. Highways will examine whether it would be possible to change work rotas to further reduce the works period.

The long official road diversion is, in reality, aimed at HGVs and will be about fifteen miles long. Local roads would be used by local people and those familiar with the area and all local roads will carry signage that they are unsuitable for large vehicles. Local deliveries will not be affected.

The usage of local roads would be monitored to decide if and where temporary passing points may need to be cut in to the verges.

Highways will work with the parish council to identify and create temporary visitor parking areas either side of the village that would allow visitors to drive directly to the village and park in order to do their business –  post office, tea shops and pubs etc, primary school or health centre – using the metal bridge by the sluice gates or the Pightle footpath to walk from one side to the village to the other.

Highways will consult with the health centre to determine what will be needed to help the elderly, sick and frail to access its services. It will also consult with the school, school bus providers, bus companies and the emergency services.

The above was presented to the Annual Parish Assembly held in Finchingfiled village hall on Tuesday 8th May.
Graham Tobbell
Finchingfield Parish Council