'Neglected' treasure in need of rescue

Worried people living next to one of the North's most historic bridges are calling for urgent cash to prop it up, before it corrodes beyond repair.

Union Chain Bridge

Worried people living next to one of the North's most historic bridges are calling for urgent cash to prop it up, before it corrodes beyond repair.

The Union Chain Bridge, west of Berwick in Northumberland, has been closed since March, when one of its suspension hangers snapped in high winds.

Built in 1820, the 137-metre Grade 1 listed structure which spans the River Tweed is the world's oldest suspension bridge still carrying road traffic.

County council highways engineers have assessed the damage, put a repairs programme into place, and hope to reopen the route in July.

But locals say the authority has severely neglected the bridge in recent years, allowing corrosion and weeds to take their toll.

William Robson, who owns the nearby Chain Bridge Honey Farm, said: "I've lived here all my life, and I've never seen the bridge in such a sorry state.

"It's covered in rust and weeds, and the floorboards are rotting. It needs to be put into the hands of a body which can access funds to maintain it properly for the future.

"There needs to be some heads knocked together."

Mr Robson says he is writing to regional development agency One NorthEast to raise the issue, and hopes that Heritage Lottery money may be one source of funding.

Because it is listed by English Heritage, the county has had to apply to Berwick Borough Council for listed building consent, which is expected to take up to eight weeks to obtain.

The repair plans must then be advertised for a set period, to give people the opportunity to respond, before it is forwarded to the Government Office for final approval.

But a council spokesman denied last night that the bridge had been neglected.

"In our view, the Union Chain Bridge is in perfectly acceptable condition," he said. "There are now a number of statutory procedures that have to be followed.

"Once we have approval, the work will take around a week to complete."

For local traffic, the nearest alternative route is via the Whiteadder Bridge on the B6461.

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