UPDATE: a video of the demolition and rebuild is on our YouTube channel; and it is embedded below.
After 3 months of work, the new bridge on Newbury Road over the railway line is to be officially open on Wednesday, 2 May 2012.
The road was shut at the end of January and the original bridge dating from the mid-1850s was demolished. The height under the new bridge is greater, to allow the A10 sized freight trains to fit through.
Barriers across the road were removed this afternoon, and a quickly arranged opening ceremony was hosted by our mayor, Cllr Barry Jackman and mayoress Sandra Jackman. Some passing locals, visitors, dogs and even bridge construction workers joined in on the occasion.
So quick were the arrangements made that the mayor had to complete the extreme ironing of the ribbon on-site before he cut it; while his wife took care of tea for the construction crew. Afterwards, champagne was popped open and enjoyed by all.
The workers have also made minor repairs to a second bridge, just to the north of the new one. Now filled in underneath, this bridge was for a track loop around to the now dismantled Didcot, Newbury & Southampton Railway.
LOVE OF OLD BRIDGE
Some people have expressed their love of the demolished 1850s bridge. They also noted that the new bridge does not have a dedicated bicycle path nor wide pavements for people going into the North Wessex Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The parapets are also higher, which makes it much more difficult to look over them to see and photograph the occasional passing steam train.
The B&DBC conservation officer stated during the planning phase that ‘the level of significance given to the [original] individual bridge and the group could be somewhat greater than what the supporting justification [from Network Rail] attributes to them.’
LOCAL HISTORICAL INTEREST
It is not clear why the Whitchurch bridge was not saved like other bridges along the line by lowering the tracks instead. UPDATE: it may have been because it would mean the nearby station platforms and associated buildings would have to have been lowered too.
The Conservation Officer stated in his report that ‘the level of demolition and modification has been properly considered to be the minimum to achieve the objectives of the operational needs for the railway, overcomes the loss of the character and appearance of the existing overbridge in this instance.’
The officer continued, ‘as such, it is considered that the proposed development would not harm a feature of local historical or architectural interest or adversely affect its setting…’
A heritage statement about the old railway bridges is found in planning application BDB/73703 (the 10MB pdf file is HERE). Work was to take place earlier but dormice were found – see our story on that HERE. The new bridge went up quickly – see HERE. Our stories about the bridge closure are HERE, HERE and HERE. News about the Priory Lane, Freefolk Priors bridge is HERE. No dog poo was left on the bridge. A video interview of the mayor at the opening is on YouTube HERE, and below.