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Saturday, 14 December 2019
A PUBLIC footpath near Henley that has been closed for more than a year could be re-opened before Christmas.
A section of the path along the River Thames has been closed since the wooden bridge on the western bank near Fawley Court collapsed in October last year.
The reconstruction of the bridge has been beset by delays, angering walkers who use the path as they have been forced to walk along the busy Marlow Road, which has no pavements, instead.
Two weeks ago, more than 150 people took part in a demonstration where they made their way along the footpath to where it is blocked by a wooden barricade.
Buckinghamshire County Council, which is responsible for the narrow bridge, was supposed to install a new structure in June but poor weather put a stop to it.
The work was then pushed back to August to avoid clashing with Henley Royal Regatta but since then the council and the Fawley Court estate have been unable to organise access to the site.
Now the estate has written to the council offering to pay for a like-for-like replacement footbridge and allow contractors on site “immediately” to complete the work before the Christmas holiday.
The estate told the Henley Standard that it was happy to take “matters into its own hands” because it didn’t want any more delays.
In a statement, it said: “Fawley Court estate has offered to pay to replace the broken footbridge, with a like-for-like replacement, on the Thames-side public footpath which crosses the estate. The footpath has been closed since its collapse 13 months ago.
“Although the bridge belongs to the council and it is the council’s responsibility to maintain it, the estate made this offer in the hope that the bridge will be re-opened before the Christmas holidays so Henley’s walkers can once again enjoy their walks along the entire length of the footpath.
“The estate made it clear to the council that access for contractors will be given immediately upon the council’s acceptance of the estate’s offer.
“The estate hopes the bridge will be rebuilt in a matter of days so the order for the blockade to the entrance can be removed and the footpath can go back into full use.
“While wider issues need to be resolved with the council, the estate does not want others to wait for this resolution, has taken matters into its own hands and offered to pay for a like-for-like replacement.”
The county council thanked the estate for its “kind offer” but says that it had already budgeted for the cost and installation of the new bridge.
It said it would now look to agree the necessary access with the estate and hoped the bridge would be in place “within weeks”.
The latest bridge closure notice is due to expire on December 16.
A council spokesman said: “It’s good news that a resolution seems to be in sight. As we have full responsibility for the bridge, we already have the budget for a replacement, so funding is not the issue.
“What is more critical is access to the site itself. If we can agree details on this aspect then a new bridge could be there within weeks, weather permitting.”
Campaigners have been fighting for the bridge to be reinstated for months.
They say that the protest on November 16 helped to end the impasse.
The “peaceful” demonstration included families with children, regular walkers and countryside campaigners.
Some of them carried banners and signs with slogans such as “Bring back our bridge”. They walked from the start of the path, near Marlow Road, opposite Henley Rugby Club, along the riverbank, to where the footpath is closed.
The protest was organised by the Ramblers’ Henley and Goring group and Henley Walkers are Welcome, with support from the Open Spaces Society and the Chiltern Society.
Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the Henley-based Open Spaces Society, spoke at the event and wrote an open letter to the estate in last week’s Henley Standard asking for its help.
She said: “It is brilliant news and it is not before time. We are delighted that our protest last week has helped to bring about this excellent result and I look forward to have a celebratory walk along that footpath. It is very, very good news.”
Anthea Osborn-Jones, who runs walking group A Foot in the Chilterns, said: “That is brilliant news if it happens.
“It is such a nice footpath, it is quieter than the other side and it is really well used by lots of people. It would be great to add the walk back into our repertoire of walks.
“I think the protest was a very good one that drew people’s attention and brought the footbridge back into the limelight and thank you to the Henley Standard for helping with that.”
Rosemary Duckett, who lives in Marlow Road and has been walking the route for 48 years, said: “I am absolutely delighted — I can’t tell you how thrilled I am.
“The other day I walked along the other side and it just made me realise again how beautiful the walk is and how much I missed it.
“It’s wonderful news that we are to have the bridge back. It is a real Christmas present.”
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