Upgrading boosts bridges repair bid

THE historical status of St Ives s New Bridges has been upgraded to II*, putting pressure on the county council to carry out much-needed repair work. They have been regraded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, on the advice of English Herita

THE historical status of St Ives's "New Bridges" has been upgraded to II*, putting pressure on the county council to carry out much-needed repair work.

They have been regraded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, on the advice of English Heritage and after pressure from St Ives Civic Society.

But Cambridgeshire County Council, which learned of the decision only when The Hunts Post asked when repairs would be carried out, has 28 days to appeal the decision - once the correct letter has turned up from English Heritage.

The only previous notification applied to the recommendation, not the decision. "We were sent the wrong letter," a council spokesman said. "We were told we had until July 3 to comment. In fact we have 28 days to appeal."

In spite of the name, the New Bridges are neither new - they date from 1822 - nor are they in St Ives, as the adjacent Grade I listed old bridge is. The St Ives boundary stretches only as far south as the River Great Ouse, so the 700ft-long New Bridges actually form part of the boundary between Hemingford Grey and Fenstanton.

English Heritage's advice to the Government said: "This 55-arched single structure is a unique causeway in the UK in that it is the longest road causeway with the greatest number of continuous brick arches.

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"It pre-dates the brick viaducts of the railway era and is a very significant example of 'turnpike archaeology', and was considered to be important by the engineer Thomas Telford in 1826.

"A comparison with other causeways shows that the New Bridges is more extensive in a single stretch and much less altered than other comparable examples."

Civic society chairman Barbara Richmond said: "The New Bridges causeway was once the main entrance to St Ives from the south and is an intrinsic part of the town's heritage. We now look to the county council to carry out the urgently-needed repairs and give up all idea of demolishing the New Bridges."

But the county council says it would cost between £3million and £4million either to repair the structure or to demolish it. Which it will do remains uncertain, with an annual budget of £3million for the entire county's 1,500 road bridges and other structures.

"We will read the report before deciding what action to take," the spokesman said. "We agree with the civic society that it's an historic structure that's part of the landscape. Ideally we would want to restore it to its former glory. The problem is that the damage is internal. The wooden pilings have dropped, and the soft bricks are crumbling and need replacing. And we can't obstruct the arches because it's in the flood plain. It was never designed for heavy traffic."

Much of the research on which English Heritage based its recommendation to the Government was done by civic society member Bridget Flanagan, whose book on the bridges was published last year.

The New Bridges were built in just 23 weeks, using around 1,250,000 locally-manufactured yellow gault bricks. Some of the arches were strengthened and a level crossing installed in 1847 when the (now long closed) railway link to Huntingdon was constructed. Much of the original stone coping survives.

Unlike other causeways, it has been repaired but not widened since 1822.

The II* listing brings the structure among "particularly important buildings and of more than special interest", and makes it eligible for inclusion on a national register of "at risk" buildings.

Listing is a material consideration for planning authorities, and the change would strengthen conservationists' hand if the county council were to apply for permission to demolish.

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