Hopes rise for bridge repairs

Union Chain Bridge

Union Chain Bridge

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There could be hope on the horizon for vital repair works to be carried out on the Union Chain Bridge linking England with Scotland.

There have long been fears that the oldest surviving iron chain suspension bridge still in use in ­Europe could be closed due to a lack of funds for ­repairs.

However, Northumberland County Council has indicated that it is prepared to stump up part of the estimated £5 million repair bill.

It has pencilled in £500,000 for the project in its medium term capital investment plan, starting in 2015-16.

A council spokesman said: “The maintenance of the bridge rests jointly with Scottish Borders Council and Northumberland County Council.

“Northumberland is the lead authority for the bridge and we inspect and undertake minor maintenance works as well as the designing and organising the procurement of any major maintenance works.

“We have undertaken an in depth structural review of the bridge to ascertain future maintenance requirements.

“In line with the options available and possible external funding for improvement work we have noted estimated costs in the medium term capital programme.”

The bridge, which is Grade 1 listed by English Heritage, requires a new chain suspension hanger system, substantial replacement of its deck, upgraded parapets, and repainting.

An investigation is also required to establish the condition of its end anchors and tower chains.

Last year, Scottish Borders Council admitted that closure ‘remains a possibility but it is something we will be seeking to avoid’.

Local residents have made it clear, however, that closure is not acceptable, pointing out that when it was closed temporarily seven years ago, drivers had to endure a frustrating diversion to cross the River Tweed at Norham, Berwick or Coldstream.

There has been a local campaign to have the bridge restored in time for its 200th anniversary in 2020. Many feel it has suffered years of neglect and bemoan the fact its historic and geographical importance has not been recognised.

The 129-metre span bridge, which connects Fishwick to Horncliffe on the English bank, was designed by Captain Samuel Brown, with its decorative detail paying ­testament to the strength of the union.

Originally the timber deck was supported by three chains of iron bar links on each side. It was substantially renewed in 1871, and again in 1974, with the chains reinforced at intervals throughout its life.

The whole structure is designed to flex slightly under load. Traffic is now limited to one vehicle on the bridge at a time.

The required works form part of a £420 million potential capital investment programme outlined by the county council for the next five years, around £40 million of which it would fund.

A council spokesman explained: “Inclusion in the medium term capital programme signifies approval in principle, and each individual scheme will be subject to business case approval in line with the council’s constitution.”

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