Norfolk’s historic railway bridges could be at risk of demolition due to a national highways plan.
Activists have warned of the fate of a handful of the county’s old railway bridges that could fall victim to the controversial project.
National Highways (NH) has compiled a list of dozens of disused structures across the country that they wish to demolish or backfill, and some in Norfolk have already been lost.
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A nationwide outcry against the policy led to the program being halted earlier this year, but activists fear many bridges, including some in the county, are still at risk.
The Heritage Railway Estate (HRE) group, which organizes the defense of the structures, is concerned the program – which NH says is designed to make bridges safer – could resume.
“These are national assets and we have to make the most of them,” said Graeme Bickerdike, a member of the group.
According to NH’s major works schedule for the next five years, two bridges in Norfolk could see work completed.
One is the Leeds Bridge at Themelthorpe, near Reepham, which sits on the so-called Themelthorpe Bend – once the steepest bend in the country’s rail network. It is currently under “structural assessments”, with “maintenance options under development”, according to NH.
Another is at Aldeby, on the old Great Yarmouth line at Beccles. The bridge has been filled on one side, with additional filling pending.
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Two bridges in West Norfolk have already been lost recently. It was decided to fill one in Congham, on an old line which ran from King’s Lynn to Fakenham, while another at Wiggenhall St Mary Magdalen, on a line from Lynn to Wisbech, was demolished earlier this year .
A bridge at Saxthorpe, near Reepham, on a line from Yarmouth to Melton Constable, was also threatened with filling, but the decision has since been postponed, leaving its fate uncertain.
The refill policy has sparked controversy across the country.
Campaigners say it can wreak nasty havoc on the countryside and also threatens the work of many restoration groups who want to revive now-defunct train lines.
One of those groups is the Melton Constable Trust (MCT), which hopes to create a Norfolk Orbital Railway from new and old rail lines.
He breathed a sigh of relief earlier this year when it was agreed that a Victorian road bridge at Gateley, near Fakenham, would not be filled.
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The bridge spans the old railway line of a line that ran from Wells to Wymondham and would have proven crucial to the group’s plan.
The Orbital Railway would run from Holt to Dereham on existing lines via Sheringham, Norwich and Wymondham, and on a new section of track via Fakenham to create a loop.
The Gateley road bridge was to be filled by NH, but following discussions with County Council and other groups, a solution was found.
“The County Council was extremely helpful in this regard. They went to great lengths to suggest a solution that would save the system, ”said MCT Director David Bill.
“To make the bridge safer, they suggest narrowing the roadway on the bridge so that only cars [rather than lorries and larger vehicles] can exceed it.
If these physical restrictions prove to be effective, then NH will not fill the bridge.
A total of 68 old railway bridges across the country could be backfilled or demolished.
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