Causeway bypass 'feasible' but hurdles must be overcome first
PLANS for a multi-million-pound bypass to divert traffic away from battered Swarkestone Bridge could be announced as early as the summer.
Derbyshire County Council believes such a project is "feasible", although it says "difficult" hurdles must be overcome first.
The major stumbling block is funding – but the Tory-led authority has its eye on Government cash due to be released in two years that could be used to pay for a bypass.
The council's finance chief, Councillor John Harrison, who has previously called Swarkestone Bridge "not fit for purpose", said: "We've established that it would be possible to build a bypass in this area although not without difficulty.
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"There is no funding available from the Government for major projects like this until April 2015. This funding will be distributed by new local transport bodies.
"The next stage will be for cabinet to decide which schemes it wants to put forward for consideration for funding. The local transport body is then expected to publish a list of schemes it proposes to fund in the summer."
If a bypass – which would cost about £20 million – was to be favoured, Mr Harrison said there would be other complications to overcome.
He said: "It would have to pass over the Trent Valley flood plains and there are conservation areas either side of the River Trent which would need to be taken into consideration too."
Concerned residents have repeated their calls for urgent action to be taken to safeguard the historic causeway – the longest stone bridge in England – after new holes were knocked into it.
The causeway is classed as an ancient monument and is the subject of a 7.5-tonne weight limit to preserve its structure.
But people living nearby say its condition is getting increasingly worse as its walls are regularly damaged by crashes.
Some of the holes have been filled in using red brick – which some residents say "spoil" its ancient look.
A council spokeswoman insisted the bricks were a "like-for-like replacement" for older red bricks that are believed to date from the 1830s.
Among those concerned by the state of the causeway is Derrick Wild, 77, of Shelton Lock, who said: "The red brick really stands out. I would have thought sandstone could have been used.
"There is all this fuss about the heritage of the bridge but it's just being destroyed and nothing's being done to stop it. There are other routes that exist so they should at least make the bridge one-way."
John Wells, 75, of Barrow upon Trent, backed calls for a bypass – but doubted it would happen any time soon.
He said: "A bypass has been talked about since I was a boy and the traffic was a lot lighter back then.
"If people said a bypass was needed back then, it is certainly needed now, although I doubt very much that I will see it in my lifetime.
"One of the biggest issues is the weight restriction being breached. There was a camera installed but it was vandalised, taken down and not replaced."
Meanwhile, the county council confirmed that, since April 2010, it has submitted claims for a total of £5,253 from motorists relating to three incidents in which the bridge was damaged.
The spokeswoman said: "This can be a lengthy process and costs relating to damage on other occasions are still being pursued."