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Leader of Sutton Council Ruth Dombey’s letter to Chris Grayling MP on Hackbridge bridges demolition

The Leader of Sutton Council Ruth Dombey corresponded with Chris Grayling MP, Secretary of State for Transport, about the proposed demolition of two bridges in Hackbridge. You can see a copy of her letter here.

sutton_logo_rgb_540pxDear Secretary of State,

I am writing to you to ask for your urgent help with regard to the future of two railway bridges that are of strategic importance to the development of the Wandle Valley Regional Park and which are about to be demolished by Network Rail.

The One Hundred Acre bridge and Irrigation Bridge span the railway line north of Hackbridge in the north east corner of the borough and have been earmarked by Network Rail for demolition in February.

This follows extensive negotiations with Network Rail for the retention of the bridges which are not only a key part of the draft Neighbourhood Plan being prepared by the Hackbridge community but are so deeply valued by local residents that they are now the subject of an impassioned campaign to save them.

Apart from their heritage value, the bridges connect a vast area of green space – three times the size of Hyde Park – right at the heart of the Wandle Valley Regional Park. Residents are most concerned about Irrigation Bridge, which provides access from Beddington Zero Energy Housing Development (BedZED) to the footpath that runs north-south between Mitcham Common and Beddington Park and affords good views of the lakes that have been created as the first stage of the Regional Park.

If these bridges are demolished, it would take considerable fundraising and investment to try and provide alternative access arrangement across the railway line. Indeed Network Rail expects LB Sutton to take on the cost or restoration and maintenance of the bridges – the initial restoration costs themselves are simply prohibitive for the Council to take on, particularly when we are subject to a fifty per cent cut in funding from central government.

The Council is also concerned that the timing of demolishing the bridges is ill thought out as the farmland restoration is still in progress and would undermine the very positive developments that are taking place in the area that are of regional significance.

We understand that restoring both bridges is not viable but we would hope that Network Rail would look to save at least one bridge – our suggestion would be the Irrigation Bridge, which is less derelict and would provide better access if restored.

Given the importance of this area to the region and the ongoing projects being developed which would be enhanced by the existence of a pedestrian bridge, we would therefore ask for your urgent assistance to halt the demolition of both bridges and a commitment to funding the restoration and maintenance of the Irrigation Bridge for the benefit of the region.

I look forward to hearing from you in due course.

With best wishes

Yours sincerely,

Councillor Ruth Dombey OBE
Leader of the Council

You can see Chris Grayling MP’s reply here. It reads as follows:

Dear Cllr Ruth Dombey,

Thank you for your letter of 17 January 2017, about the One Hundred Acre Bridge and Irrigation Bridge.

My officials have carefully looked into the long running issues surrounding these bridges and the ongoing discussions regarding their future. Indeed, they have seen correspondence dating back to 1985, as well as in the very recent past.

We are aware of the long established understanding that the bridges provide no public rights of way – we have seen the council’s written confirmation of this from 1985. We understand that this was further clarified in January 2005 when the bridges were freed from all outstanding encumbrances.
A core obligation of Network Rail’s licence is to protect the cost base of the railway. Neither bridge contributes to the operation of the railway, but both present an ongoing cost liability. As such, Network Rail has quite rightly been considering the future of both bridges. I understand various options for transferring ongoing maintenance and wider liabilities to Sutton Council were considered, but that these were ultimately rejected by the council.
In light of the above, Network Rail has initiated works for the demolition of both bridges. Indeed, a contractor has been appointed and a cancellation charge would now apply.

I must therefore make clear that I am not prepared to provide any funding for the restoration/ maintenance or to intervene in their impending demolition.

I note your concerns that the timing of the demolition may have a negative impact on the ongoing restoration of adjourning farmland. If you would like to provide details, my officials would be happy to work with Network Rail and their appointed contractor to investigate possible mitigations in terms of the phasing of the demolition works.
I regret that I am not able to intervene in the way you have requested. However, the challenging funding situation means that railway funding must be focussed on delivering for railway passengers. Indeed, within your borough, customer will directly benefit from the £6.5bn Thameslink programme – including more reliable journeys and a fleet of entirely new class 700 trains.

Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP SECRETARY OF STATE FOR TRANSPORT