'Totally unacceptable' bid to weld bridge shut could be rejected

Norwich viewed from the River Wensum. Carrow Bridge with the Welcome to Norwich sign. Picture: Denis

Plans to weld Carrow Bridge shut have attracted further opposition. - Credit: copyright: Archant 2014

Welding a Norwich river bridge shut would be "totally unacceptable" and impinge on a legal duty to allow boats access to the city, County Hall has been warned.

A row over the future of Carrow Bridge has intensified, with the Broads Authority ready to refuse Norfolk County Council permission to fix the bridge in place to reduce maintenance bills.

Carrow Bridge in Norwich Picture: Ian Clarke

Carrow Bridge. - Credit: Archant

And civic watchdog The Norwich Society has also raised concerns the temporary measure could become permanent.

The county council has spent £150,000 over the past five years to repair the bridge.

And its controlling Conservative-cabinet agreed in March to spend £150,000 next summer to fix the bridge into place, so that reduced movement would cut maintenance costs. That would see a three-week closure of the bridge to traffic.

The council had considered spending more than £2m to repair scheme to allow the bridge to keep lifting, which would have shut the bridge to traffic for three months, but decided on the option to weld it in place for a temporary period of five years.

But Section 61 of the Norwich Corporation Act 1920 states the bridge must be able to open to allow vessels to pass.

And the Broads Authority, which would have to grant the council a licence for the work, has said it would be "totally unacceptable" to weld the bridge shut.

A spokesperson said: "The Broads Authority believes that maintaining access for larger vessels into the centre of Norwich needs to be protected for future generations, to support the region’s tourism economy.

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"The authority wishes to work with Norfolk County Council to find sources of funding to fully repair Carrow Bridge, such that it can continue to open.

"When the options report by the county council was discussed, the members of the committee unanimously agreed that:

"Norfolk County Council’s proposal to carry out a minimal repair to Carrow Road Bridge, effectively welding it shut so it is unable to open to tall vessels, is totally unacceptable.

"It would be contrary to the county council’s legal obligations, under the Norwich Corporation Act 1920, which are to maintain and operate the bridge to allow vessels that require passage to pass.

"In our view officers should refuse any works licence application for this superficial repair work and the county council should be encouraged to perform repairs in a way that maintains navigation rights to this historic and important gateway to Norwich, in accordance with the legislation.”

They also agreed they wanted to encourage officers “to work with the county council to find a solution that meets the statutory obligations of both organisations.”

A new marina has been mooted as part of the East Norwich Masterplan to regenerate the area around The Deal Ground, Utilities Site and the former Colman's site - which could partially make up for the loss of access by larger boats to the port of Norwich. 

But access to that scheme depends on the replacement of the Trowse Swing Bridge and there is no guarantee that will happen.

Trowse Swing Bridge.

The Trowse Swing Bridge. - Credit: Mike Page

And Matt Williams, a member of the Norwich Society’s strategic planning and transport committee, said: "Everyone knows that once this bridge is welded shut “temporarily”, it would never open again.

Matt Williams. Pic: Norwich Society.

Matt Williams, of the Norwich Society. - Credit: Norwich Society

"Reducing the choice of maintenance to one of two extreme options, with only one being affordable, is not an appropriate approach to a decision which has major significance for a centuries-old city which would not have been founded or successful without its river navigation.

"No-one is arguing the present demand justifies keeping the bridge opening, but there is a wider range of options and any decision must be part of a rational long-term strategy rather a short-term knee-jerk."

Martin Wilby, Norfolk County Council Member for Highways, Infrastructure and Transport. Picture: Dan

Martin Wilby, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for highways, infrastructure and transport. Picture: Danielle Booden - Credit: Danielle Booden

Martin Wilby, county council cabinet member for highways, infrastructure and transport, said: “We are aware of the points raised and will continue to work closely with the Broads Authority on this important scheme.”