Government-owned National Highways has been accused of selective reporting when defending its controversial tree felling near the old Bridport branch railway bridge at Barrowland Lane, Toller
Porcorum (Bridport News, 30 Oct. 2021). The organisation had said it was asked to do the work by Dorset Council as part of measures to stop the bridge being further damaged by tree growth.
Moreover the head of National Highways’ Historical Railways’ Estate Programme Hélène Rossiter had claimed that “Any plans to demolish the bridge over Barrowland Lane are currently on hold as part of a national pause on infilling and demolition activity across the HRE.
But local transport campaigners point out that official documents show that National Highways and Dorset Council are working together to demolish the bridge in the near future despite the national pause. A National Highways’ internal paper sets out a “business case” for knocking down the structure even though the bridge “does not require immediate work”. National Highways admits that remedial measures “were not originally programmed for a few more years” but says that Dorset County [sic] Council is pushing hard for complete demolition during the national pause, as part of the Council’s plans to turn part of the old railway line into a travel path for walkers, cyclists and horse riders.
Bob Driscoll, chair of the West Dorset Western Area Transport Action Group (WATAG), says “It is very disturbing that these public organisations are keeping people in the dark about their true plans. WATAG supports the principle of using the old railway line for active travel. But there is no
obvious need for the bridge to be knocked down to achieve this.”
WATAG says that Dorset Council has not consulted with the public or local landowners about the
best way to provide access to the new path. The transport campaigners also point out that the new Dorset Local Plan and Local Transport Plan are still being prepared. They argue it is short sighted to get rid of a potentially critical piece of transport infrastructure before these plans are approved.
According to National Highways the demolition and other work asked for by the council will cost
around £175 000. WATAG believes that National Highways is keen to press on so it can use money it is finding hard to spend elsewhere during the national pause. The campaigners point out that the National Highways’ business case lists no consultees outside Dorset Council. Bob Driscoll believes this is a deliberate tactic. “National Highways are willing to argue in secret that the council officers ‘are keen to press forward with the works and are happy to write to, or speak with, anyone in order to ensure that the works are not halted.’ It’s a disgrace that neither National Highways nor Dorset Council have been open about their discussions.”