After intense lobbying from Tom Pursglove MP, Philip Amps at Oundle Business Association and the Oundle Town Council, funds amounting to £1.3m to repair North Bridge have been allocated to NCC from central government.
Early projections were that repair work would start in the next few months, but Northamptonshire County Council is now projecting that work will start “in the latter part of 2019”.
Tom Pursglove has received assurances from the Environmental Agency that they will prioritise the Flood Risk Activity permit that is necessary for work to begin without delays. Listed Building Consent will also be required from East Northamptonshire.
North Bridge is a Grade II listed structure with 13 arch spans. It was originally rebuilt in 1571 and again in 1835. It was widened in 1912. Strengthening the bridge needs to take into account potential archaeological work, as well as traffic management during construction and access to the site.
In October 2014, the bridge was assessed by the Northamptonshire Highways in order to determine its load capacity. Since the 2014 assessment, the bridge’s structure has been monitored through ‘Moniteye’, a system that accurately measures the structural movement and wirelessly transmits the data, reviewed daily by Northamptonshire Highways. This data identified the deteriorating condition, drawing immediate attention to the need for the repair and strengthening of 7 of its 13 arch spans. For the past four years, Northamptonshire Highways have been aware of the issue and the need to reduce heavy traffic but they took no action until March 2018. During this time, thousands of heavy vehicles passed over the bridge, potentially causing even more damage.
To protect the bridge and prevent further damage, in January Highways will be introducing a 3 tonne weight limit, and bollards for width restrictions for all vehicles.
Existing weight limits will not be lifted for bridges in surrounding villages, although emergency vehicles are exempt from weight limits, and can use Cotterstock Bridge.
They will be revoking the 18 tonne weight limit currently in place on Mill Road and Barnwell Road to allow for an alternative route for heavy goods vehicles into Oundle. South Bridge can take up to 40 tonne vehicles.
When the weight limit is imposed on North Bridge, permanent traffic lights will be installed on the A605 at the Barnwell junction to protect turning vehicles. Highways have not yet made a plan for HGV traffic flow though Oundle, but have proposed to monitor traffic in the early stages and put systems in place to manage the flow when required.
The council has raised particular concern about the potential for traffic to back up on the approach to the bridge from the A605, and is waiting for comment from Highways about how to manage this.
North Bridge is a vital throughway for traffic entering the town. It is one of three ways to drive into Oundle and is not only used by visitors and residents, but by traders in the town, with a main stream of heavy goods vehicles coming from the A605.
There are four bus and coach services that use the bridge, along with 12 to 18 school buses. Discussion is ongoing with the bus and coach companies about what the impact will be on their services.
Since May Oundle Town Council has been in discussion with Highways about Stagecoach’s plans for the X4 Bus through Oundle, but Stagecoach has not yet provided a statement about its plans.