BOSSES at English Heritage have angered villagers in Northumberland by objecting to proposals for work on a historic bridge.
The organisation has been criticised for opposing plans drawn up to improve the appearance of the road bridge over the River Coquet at Rothbury.
Northumberland County Council came up with plans to strengthen and improve the appearance of the bridge, which dates from the 15th century and is the oldest structure in Rothbury.
The council plans sought to restore the bridge as close to how it looked pre 1909, replacing the current metal railings with stone, restoring the parapets and putting cutwaters back on the structure.
The project is expected to cost £3m, with the council having allocated £975,000 last year and given a further £1.6m this year.
An exhibition was held in the village last year and residents and Rothbury Parish Council supported the plans.
The final decision on the scheme was to be made by a Government minister, based on a recommendation from English Heritage, given the bridge’s scheduled monument status.
The council has told The Journal the organisation rejected its scheme, as it was concerned at the “dominating effect of the proposals on the monument”.
Villagers are angry over English Heritage’s stance, with county councillor Steven Bridgett and Rothbury Parish Council having criticised the organisation.
The parish has contacted Sir Alan Beith, Liberal Democrat MP for Berwick, who has passed on its concerns to the minister.
Coun Bridgett said: “This is our bridge, it is not English Heritage who will have to live with what it looks like for the next 150-200 years. This is the oldest structure in Rothbury dating from the 15th century and the county council have proposed a scheme that genuinely reflects this and restores it as much as possible to its original glory and, for once, the county council is prepared to pay the extra money to achieve this.
“This is what we as a community want – hundreds of residents turned out to the public consultation last year and were really pleased with what the council were proposing. It beggars belief that an unelected organisation can just steamroll over and ignore what the residents who will actually use and appreciate this bridge want.”
Carol Pyrah, English Heritage’s North East planning director, denied ever rejecting the council’s proposal and said it had been recommended for consent at the first time of asking. She claimed the organisation had raised concern over the design of parapets proposed and asked the council to consider work on other historic bridges.
Mrs Pyrah said: “We had extensive discussions with Northumberland County Council highways department in order to find ways of strengthening the bridge while protecting its special historic and archaeological interest.
“We certainly don’t dictate any one approach and we are keen to meet with the parish council and the county council to understand the issues and hear how the county wishes to take the work forward.
“The county can always make a new application which takes on board the wishes of the local community.
“Throughout all this, our role is to ensure that what makes this historic bridge special is protected.”
Scheduled monument consent has now been given and work is set to begin next month.
A bailey bridge is in place to take traffic while the structure is closed.