South Scotland

Union Chain Bridge investigations pave way for upgrade

Union Chain Bridge Image copyright Friends of the Union Chain Bridge
Image caption The bridge will be closed to traffic at times during the investigation works

Detailed investigation work is to start ahead of a proposed £8m upgrade of a bridge linking Scotland and England.

The Union Chain Bridge - built in 1820 - crosses the River Tweed from Fishwick in Berwickshire to Horncliffe in Northumberland.

It has been on Historic England's Heritage at Risk register since 2013.

Investigation work starts on 26 June for up to four weeks meaning it will be shut to vehicles from 3 July on weekdays for a fortnight.

When it was officially opened nearly 200 years ago, the structure was the longest wrought iron suspension bridge in the world.

However, it has become structurally unsafe and can now only be accessed by one light vehicle at a time.

Northumberland County Council (NCC), Scottish Borders Council (SBC) and the Friends of Union Chain Bridge are working together on the project to safeguard the future of the bridge near Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Image copyright Friends of the Union Chain Bridge
Image caption It is hoped the overhaul project can be completed in time for the bridge's 200th anniversary

It requires urgent conservation and engineering repairs to secure its future.

A funding bid for the restoration is now being prepared for the Heritage Lottery Fund, with a maximum of £5m available towards the bulk of the work.

The county council's cabinet will meet next month to consider recommendations to contribute funding over three years towards the scheme, which it is hoped can be completed by 2020 - the 200th anniversary of the bridge's opening.

Other stakeholders are also expected to make "significant contributions".

The investigation work hopes to provide a greater understanding of the status and condition of the bridge - allowing a "more robust bid" to be submitted to the HLF.

Diversions will be in place for traffic on weekdays while the bridge will be open to pedestrians and cyclists at all times and to vehicles at weekends.

Glen Sanderson, cabinet member for environment and local services at NCC, said: "The Union Chain Bridge is of international significance but its condition has been of growing concern for a number of years.

"Along with our colleagues in Scotland we are committed to safeguarding its future and status, both as a key transport link and as a contributor to the local tourism economy.

"The site investigation work is vital ahead of any major project starting and engineers will be working to keep disruption to a minimum throughout."

'Lobby hard'

His counterpart with SBC, Gordon Edgar, also welcomed the move forward.

He said: "I am pleased we are seeing progress in the bid to retain the Union Chain Bridge as the world's oldest single span suspension bridge still used by traffic.

"The iconic crossing has provided a vital link between Scotland and England for almost 200 years, and we want that to remain the case.

"The short-term closure of the bridge to vehicles will cause some inconvenience but will provide important information for its long-term future."

Robbie Hunter, who chairs the Friends of the Union Chain Bridge, said it was pleased with the "significant financial support" of both councils.

He said they would continue to "lobby hard" for HLF funding.

"It would be an unforgivable tragedy if we failed to save this engineering icon," he said.

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