A CALL has been made for a new approach to protect a 250-year-old bridge from weather damage and keep road closures to a minimum.
Councillor Matt Brereton, who represents High Furness on Cumbria County Council, wants maintenance work to be carried out urgently on the Grade II-listed bridge over the river Duddon on the A595, and medium and long-term strategies to ensure the bridge does not fall victim to extreme weather events like Storm Desmond.
Cllr Brereton said members of Cumbria County Council had agreed to work together to devise a strategic plan which he hopes could result in millions of pounds of government funding being secured to improve the route.
He said: “Duddon Bridge is a vital gateway and hub in the south Cumbria strategic highways network, but we have seen in recent years it has become neglected, with a deteriorating road surface, missing or damaged signage, approach walls and bridge parapets.
“In addition, the overgrowth both on and around the bridge restricts visibility, which is a problem for walkers, cyclists and horse riders in particular.
“The footpath and bridleway network around Duddon Bridge is also rather overgrown and waterlogged, with broken gates and fences, deep puddles and so on, which lends to the general air of neglect.
“The road is particularly vital from a Copeland perspective, being the main artery to Barrow and the south and the A590/M6, but it is actually managed from the south Lakes side, which has sometimes meant the approach has not been as co-ordinated as it might have been.
“Together with councillors Nick Cotton, Keith Hitchen, the respective chairs of South Lakeland and Copeland local committees, and Ben Shirley from Dalton North on Cumbria County Council, we agreed that joint working is the only way to achieve progress on some of the long-standing issues with Duddon Bridge.”
Cllr Brereton warned that a ‘good working relationship’ was required on both sides of the river to ensure funding opportunities were not missed once the river splits the new proposed unitary authorities of Cumberland and Westmorland & Furness following local government reform.
“When heavy rainfall combines with seasonal high tides, the bridge and approach roads are apt to flood,” he said.
“Just a few weeks ago there was a great deal of confusion when the bridge was closed for safety reasons, at the same time as the bridge further along the A595 at Holmrook was closed, effectively cutting off a huge swathe of south Copeland from the outside world and meaning local people couldn’t get to or from work, school, medical appointments or to see friends and family.
“Fortunately, Cumbria highways and structural teams worked hard to get the bridge open again after carrying out important safety checks, but this worrying incident just went to show that there is no effective diversion route for HGVs when such closures occur.
“Even at the best of times, and with no other closures in place, the diversion route when Duddon Bridge is closed is one of the longest in the country – if not the longest.”
A meeting of councillors, highways officers and structural engineers took place days after the bridge reopened, with an agreement reached on a short-term maintenance programme to tackle pressing issues including road resurfacing work, rebuilding a wall washed out on the Copeland side and tackling weeds and overgrown trees both on and adjacent to the bridge to improve visibility for non-vehicular traffic.
“We also agreed that more needs to be done to address medium-term resilience issues, including improving the camera coverage on the bridge to show water levels and traffic flows, better plans to communicate and enforce emergency closures, and ideas to speed up safety inspections to allow the bridge to reopen as soon as floodwaters and high tides subside,” Cllr Brereton said.
“We also want to see if there is a way that we can capture vehicle registration plate details to trace insurance details to pay for repairs to damage caused to the bridge parapets by vehicle strikes – a common issue that costs the local authority several million pounds every year across Cumbria.
“It would be helpful to improve visibility for pedestrians and create areas of refuge for them to cross safely, so the bridge can form part of the English Coast Path, which has reached Silecroft but includes a proposal to use trains between Green Road and Foxfield as a ‘land ferry’ that was rejected unanimously when brought before the South Lakeland committee of Cumbria County Council a couple of years ago.
“Finally, we are hoping that this new collaborative approach can persuade the Government to fund long-term improvements, to both protect the bridge itself and seek to improve the road approaches, especially on the Copeland side, where the A595 goes through some very tight and narrow turns not dissimilar to the situation at present at Dove Ford in Grizebeck.
“I’m pleased to say that Councillor Keith Little, Cumbria County Council portfolio holder for highways and transportation, also committed at the most recent full council meeting in Carlisle to resourcing development of a long-term strategic plan for Duddon Bridge, to ensure that the south of Copeland is not cut off from the outside world for any significant length of time if and when future severe weather events and high tides again combine to force the bridge to close for safety reasons.”
Keith Little, cabinet member for highways and transport at Cumbria County Council, said: “Cumbria County Council are well aware of the issues across our network during the winter period.
“Our teams are fully committed to keeping the highway infrastructure open to the travelling public.
“We will work with our district colleagues and the Department of Transport on any opportunities for further development opportunities.”