BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED RAILINGS!

They were put up as a temporary safety measure in August 2019, but it looks like the orange railings eyesore surrounding Sturminster Newton Town Bridge could stay in place for as long as another year.

The proposed engineering project to protect the crucial A357 and restore the river banks to their former glory is proving to be a massive undertaking. The slope between Sturminster Newton Town Mill and the town bridge has been shifting for many years. The footway has been repeatedly patched and repaired, but by 2019 the movement had become too great and it was decided that a more permanent solution was required to protect the highway.

A temporary solution using gabions to make the footway useable failed when it started to move before the temporary works were completed. This was exacerbated by the high river levels last winter. 

Jill Barry, Engineer at Dorset Council Highways explains: “This is a major project, and whilst I appreciate that it may look as if no progress has been made since August 2019 because no work has taken place on site, feasibility work on the permanent solution has been underway since then. There has been a lot of information gathering and activity taking place behind the scenes towards designing the permanent embankment remediation.

“This is quite a complicated failure, and the engineering solution required will involve major works and permissions from other agencies, so it’s important that all the work being done now, which forms the basis of the project, is completed. I appreciate that to the outside world it appears that nothing has been done for a year, but in fact nothing could be further from the truth.”

Dorset Council Councillor, Carole Jones, a Sturminster Newton resident who looks out onto the ugly protective barriers, has been pushing for them to be changed to something more in keeping with the beautiful Grade 1 listed bridge.

She says: “A local firm did offer to erect timber fencing along the stretch but that’s not possible because of slippage. If there was a way of having something other than those awful plastic railings, we would leap for joy. I know how unhappy residents and local businesses are about the look of them.”

Jill Crouch explains: “Due to the small but continuous movement of the footway and the post holes, it’s not been possible to erect an all-timber fence, as it would need to be repaired on a very regular basis, whilst also possibly being a hazard. Other options would probably look worse and would require more maintenance. I have asked if the orange barriers could be changed for some of the newer blue ones as they would be less visually intrusive.”

Temporary Solution – image Carole Jones

It would seem the only other option at present is for these different coloured plastic barriers to be erected. Jill Crouch: “As a highway authority the safety of the travelling public is our primary consideration and aesthetics are very secondary.”

Councillor Jones adds: “The unsightly barriers are a pain but I don’t think people fully appreciate just what is involved in getting this restoration work done. I’m in constant touch with the Council about this – there’s about thirty people working on the project, which involves the Environment Agency, the Pitt Rivers estate and the Highways division. We will also need an external engineering company to work in partnership with the council.”

There’s the added complication that restoration work cannot be carried out when fish are spawning or when water levels are high in order to not impact on the river.

Highways told the digital Blackmore Vale they are currently gathering together all the information about the slope ahead of getting the permissions necessary for a full ground investigation which will be the first sign to local people that work is taking place.

They’re also in the process of drawing up a programme of works and, when complete,  consultation with the Town Council will begin. The project is likely to cost in the region of £400,000. 

Chair of Sturminster Newton Town Council, Councillor Charles Fraser said: “The feeling from the public at our last town council meeting was very much that our community are now resigned to the fact that these barriers are here to stay for much longer than originally intended.”

By: Tracie Beardsley

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