‘A travesty’ – Village fights to save heritage bridge which has stood since 1901
- Credit: LUCINDA DE JASAY
A petition has been launched to stop a heritage bridge in Boxted, which was built in 1901, from being replaced with a wider structure to allow for larger vehicles, which residents deemed “a travesty”.
Essex Highways is currently undertaking investigation work at Boxted Bridge, in the centre of Dedham Vale, to consider long-term options for the management of the crossing point.
They said that “action must be taken” following years of corrosion and damage to the bridge’s foundation, which has stood for nearly 120 years. They plan to replace it entirely with a wider structure, which villagers are concerned would “urbanise” the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
Lucinda de Jasay, whose family has lived at Boxted Mill since 1970, has started a petition to fight the replacement of what she described a “beautiful bridge”.
The 64-year-old said: “The bridge is beautiful, it has stood in the middle of an AONB since 1901 and the proposed scheme would urbanise it.
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“Everyone in Boxted feels so strongly about this as the bridge is part of the village. It is timeless and is unaltered. It’s a lovely spot to stand peacefully and look over the mill.”
More than 382 people have signed the petition to save the bridge, which inspired many paintings by both Sir Alfred Munnings and John Nash, from being replaced.
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They believe it can be repaired and saved for the community, without allowing for an increase in the number of HGVs travelling down the country roads.
“There is no need for a bigger two lane bridge as the none of the approach roads are two lane. HGVs should be discouraged but farm vehicles permitted” said Mrs de Jasay.
“In the past we have had several HGV strikes on the wall, but there have been none since signs were installed telling HGVS it is not suitable for them.”
In December 2019, the second of two ‘Not Suitable for HGV’ signs was put up on the junction of one of the approach roads to the bridge. These have been remarkably successful in discouraging further HGV traffic.
Mrs de Jasay added: “This scheme is ridiculous. If the bridge is made wider, then they will have to surely upgrade all the roads too as it will just encourage more HGVs here.
“They have not even factored in the carbon footprint of the cost of the replacement, which they propose would cost £900,000 to £1million.
“We would like to see the bridge repaired, so it can keep it’s heritage.”
Commenting on the petition, Benedict Foley said the scheme is a “travesty in an AONB”.
While Annie Churcher added: “We need to preserve and cherish our heritage, not destroy it.”
Karen Thompson, the Boxted Parish Council clerk, said they have written to Essex County Council asking them to pause the process and reconsider the replacement.
She said the original study in 2018 recommended that the option of replacing the bridge with a wide new structure was not taken forward, so it has caused concern that the decision has been made without the availability to comment.
She said: “This is the most costly option and the most disruptive, especially with a 12-month full closure of the road, which we don’t feel is necessary.
“The parish council supports the residents with the petition and would like to see the bridge repaired and made more structurally sound, but not replaced. To do so would remove 120 years of glorious heritage.”
Essex Highways said that following thorough examination, the favoured solution is to replace the entire bridge with a new structure.
A spokesman said: “The 2018 inspection of Boxted Bridge found corrosion, delamination, bending and cracks in the foundation of this 119-year old bridge, so action must be taken.
“The bridge cannot safely handle two lanes of modern traffic. Large vehicles, including fire service vehicles, cannot manoeuvre safely, as evidenced by frequent collisions with the bridge and with a nearby privately-owned wall.
“Following thorough examination, the favoured solution is to replace the entire bridge with a new structure which is wider only to the minimum extent necessary for safe vehicle use. Together with road realignment this will safely accommodate emergency service and waste vehicles, but not articulated HGVs due to the bridge’s location in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
“Once ground surveys are complete we will share suggested designs for a new bridge with all interested parties to gather views so that we have the best possible proposal to put forward as an application for planning permission.”