Permission sought for major works to historic bridge over Tweed

A planning application for the major refurbishment and restoration of the historic Union Chain Bridge is set to be approved later this week.

Monday, 18th March 2019, 2:38 pm
Updated Monday, 18th March 2019, 2:43 pm
The Union Chain Bridge. Picture by Jane Coltman

Built in 1820, the grade I-listed structure connecting England and Scotland across the River Tweed at Horncliffe is the oldest operational suspension bridge in the world still carrying vehicles.

Earlier this month, Northumberland County Council revealed that the next funding bid to support the project will be made in May and, if successful, the major works will start early next year.

And on Thursday (March 21), members of the North Northumberland Local Area Council are being recommended to approve an application for listed building consent for essential conservation and structural repairs.

The planning officer’s report explains: ‘The condition of the bridge is poor and is listed on the national Heritage At Risk Register.

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‘Not only does the structure require repair and repainting, it needs to be brought up to modern bridge standards if it is to remain in use for vehicles.’

The repairs are very extensive, with seven mechanical elements requiring removal, cleaning, inspection, repair or replacement and a further four non-mechanical pieces needing repair and alteration work.

The application has been submitted to provide assurance that ‘the proposed methods will enable every element of this iconic structure to be totally conserved and repaired, providing a further 120 years’ viability as an important vehicular river crossing between England and Scotland, but without impacting on the original historic fabric and its significant setting’.

The bid is supported by both Northumberland County Council’s conservation officers and Historic England, subject to appropriate conditions.

The biggest change to the bridge’s original appearance, which has been largely retained up until now despite adaptations and replacements, will be that the railings will be set back from the chain system and continued across the middle section of the bridge, whereas now they finish shy of the centre allowing an uninterrupted view of the chains down to the deck.

‘This change is regrettable but justified,’ the report explains. ‘In part because the way the chains engage with the railings causes structural stresses and also the need to ensure the safety of pedestrians at the middle section.’

The application covers land in both England (Northumberland County Council) and Scotland (Scottish Borders Council), so applications have been made to both local authorities – ‘coordination has occurred to ensure that the two consents are both implementable with each other’.

In March last year, a first-round National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) bid by Northumberland County Council, Scottish Borders Council, Museums Northumberland and community group Friends of the Union Chain Bridge to restore the famous structure completely, secured a £360,000 development grant.

That meant the £7.3million project could move into the development, ahead of a second-round submission to the NLHF, which will now be made by the end of May.

Through securing lottery support, it is anticipated that the bridge project can also deliver numerous cultural, heritage, educational and community benefits.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service