Sunday, 19 January 2020
AN estate near Henley has built, installed and paid for a new bridge so that a public footpath can be re-opened after more than a year.
Estate owners granted Buckinghamshire County Council, the highways authority, permission to access the site with a view to erecting a new bridge.
However, the council said it would not be possible to start work until after January and so the estate has installed a bridge, after offering to pay for a like-for-like replacement – an offer which was refused by the council.
Residents held a demonstration along the River Thames last month in an effort to reinstate the bridge, which collapsed in October last year.
A contractor and a bridge engineer have visited the site and construction work on the replacement work had already started.
The council was hoping to commence building in the New Year, with the latest bridge closure notice expiring on Monday (December 16).
The estate said it was “disappointed” that the council would not be able to act before Christmas.
The closure notice is due to be renewed by the county council, but the estate feared this would open the door to further delays.
The estate will remove the barrier on Friday evening, which will allow walkers to use the new bridge.
An unveiling was organised on Friday afternoon, which was attended by Henley councillors Kellie Hinton and Will Hamilton, as well as Lady Judy McAlpine.
A spokesman for the estate said: "We were told by the Henley Standard, on the morning of December 11, that the council intended to put a new six-month closure order in place on the footpath that would run until June 2020.
"Sadly, the council did not communicate this to us despite three recent requests on our part and we knew the bridge was not being built as no drawings had been submitted to us.
"We felt this further extension was totally unreasonable. We simply did not believe that the council would produce anything in the timeframe proposed.
"With the knowledge of our legal advisors, who confirmed that we are not being obtrusive to the walkers, it is perfectly within our entitlement to build a new bridge. We took immediate action and ordered the construction of a like-for-like bridge on Wednesday lunchtime.
"The bridge was ready for installation by Thursday evening and installed by Friday lunchtime. In other words 48 hours. This is how shockingly quickly this matter could have been resolved had we had the co-operation of our council.
"We at Fawley Court have taken responsibility for our own bridge and refuse to continue to wait for the council to fulfil its empty promises. We are only sorry we held faith and believed in them for so long.
"Taking matters into our own hands has now fulfilled the promise to our walkers of a bridge by Christmas. We look forward to welcoming you back once again and for you to enjoy the Thames walk.
“We would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a festive Christmas and a prosperous New Year."
More than 150 people took part in the demonstration last month and carried banners saying “bring back our bridge” which attracted support from regular walkers and residents.
The county council had intended to fit a replacement bridge in June, but this was delayed due to poor weather.
Councillor John Halsall, who is the leader of Wokingham Borough Council, contacted the Henley Standard after seeing vehicles arrive opposite his home on Remenham Lane on Friday morning.
He said he was “absolutely delighted” to see a replacement bridge being put in place at around 10am.
He added: “I have not been able to avoid this story because my study overlooks it. I am the closest neighbour and it has been going on for quite some time.
“Public rights of way in Wargrave and Remenham are highly valued and I imagine they are equally valued by people in Henley.
“It is nice to see the landowner restoring the bridge. I am a jogger and walker and I have a dog. Health and well-being is very important to me and to have ability to go out in the countryside and use public rights of way is absolutely vital.”
Councillor Hamilton praised Fawley Court for taking “positive action” on the matter after months of uncertainty.
He said: “Campaigning is all well and good but when you have to look for someone to blame and individuals, that is when it nasty.
“In this case, some of the things that have been said [about Fawley Court] have been totally unjust.
“It is far better to work together. Fawley Court has been brilliant; we have been communicating with them since the start of the year to see if we can get something done.
“We have shared in their frustration. We have now got to a position where we have managed to resolve this by working with Fawley Court in a constructive way.”
Councillor Kellie Hinton added: “Demonstrating outside of the county council officers would have been a far more appropriate course of action.
“They proved they were responsible when they turned down the very generous offer from Fawley Court to fit a replacement bridge.”
Buckinghamshire County Council has been approached for comment.
13 December 2019
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