National Highways defends work on bridge filling sites despite program hiatus


National Highways has advocated for work on a number of structures intended for backfill or demolition, despite a general hiatus in the program.

According to the HRE group – an alliance of activists and engineers active in the travel field – logging, drainage, access and ecology work has been authorized at 14 sites in Dorset to the East Lothian. The contracts were awarded between September 21 and October 25, for a total value of £ 192,000.

National Highways has confirmed that works such as vegetation clearing and ecological works have been carried out, but insists that they are “necessary regardless of any decision regarding the future of these structures.”

A full program hiatus was put in place earlier in the year following a nationwide backlash to bridge infill at Great Musgrave.

Helene Rossiter, Historic Railways Estate Program Manager at National Highways, said: “The Historic Railways Estate (HRE) is an important part of our industrial heritage. This is why all plans for infill and demolition have been suspended nationwide and remain suspended.

“This work has been suspended to give local authorities and interest groups more time to fully consider the structures as part of their local active travel plans for heritage railways.

“However, we continued to work on vegetation and ecology on a certain number of structures. This is good practice and will ensure the safety of the structures. This work will be “necessary regardless of any decision concerning the future of these structures”.

The structures are part of the historic railway domain managed by the national highways on behalf of the DfT and include 3,200 bridges, tunnels and viaducts, including 77 classified structures.

Of the 3,200 structures, the pause remains in place for the demolition of five bridges, four redundant abutments and the backfilling of 59 bridges which were to take place over the next five years.

Jacobs acts as a “sole source” (designer) for the historic railroad business and has recently been renamed for an additional seven years. Six contractors support Jacobs in carrying out all work, including Dyer & Butler and Balfour Beatty.

Graeme Bickerdike, member of the HRE Group, said: “The award of these contracts demonstrates a clear direction of travel and undermines the intervention of ministers.

“The company is not sensitive to its broader social obligations around heritage, ecology and the environment. Instead, it is spending taxpayer dollars to cut off some of the nature’s reclamation of disused rail lines, destroying habitat for projects that supposedly have not been confirmed. So why not wait until they are? The so-called pause is just smoke and mirrors.

In October, engineers and program directors at National Highways said RCE that they stand next to the “necessary” bridge infill of the Great Musgrave Bridge.

However, they developed five possible methods of bridging the bridges that could be implemented if the infill was removed.

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