Council agrees to investigate funding for temporary Finchingfield bridge after heated meeting

Bridge campaigners Peter and Mary Curry and Jane Welsh with Braintree MP James Cleverly,

Bridge campaigners Peter and Mary Curry and Jane Welsh with Braintree MP James Cleverly, - Credit: Archant

After an hour and half of being booed, barracked and heckled and having his every argument countered or groaned at, county councillor Eddie Johnson finally told an angry meeting at Finchingfield that he would reconsider the options for repairing the village bridge.

For 90 minutes on Tuesday evening, he had held out. He was clear that the village could not have their demand – a temporary bridge across the pond when the old bridge is repaired next July.

Essex County Council has said the bridge will be out of action for four months replaced by a 15-mile detour.

The village was outraged even before the bridge closed for a week this month after a lorry hit the wall of a funeral parlour adjoining the crossing.

Then the predictions of chaos came true. Lorries ended up in ditches. Side roads and front drives were churned up. Businesses said takings halved. A survey of 50 people found between them, they had driven an extra 3,708 miles. The facts were made vociferously clear at the meeting.

But to every objection, Cllr Johnson repeated the mantra: “I haven’t got the money for a temporary bridge. I only have the money to repair your bridge.”

He said the repairs would cost £380,000 and take four months. “A temporary bridge would be double the money and double the time.”

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How did he know was the response from the audience: “How could he have costed something not yet designed?”

The 14th century church of St John the Baptist, which holds 400, was packed to standing room only for the meeting called by Finchingfield Parish Council.

The councillor might have remembered that the Peasants Revolt of 1381 began in Essex. The barons who forced King John to sign the Magna Carta in 1215, came from here. Now, Finchingfield was in no mood to be messed with.

Resident after resident, business after business, challenged the need to repair the bridge, questioned the plan to widen it, to include a footpath or to strengthen it to take even heavier lorries. They received loud cheers and applause.

Resident Frances Goodfellow asked: “Who decided that they wanted it widened? A wider bridge to take bigger lorries is for someone else’s benefit not for ours.”

Peter Godden-Kent, a first responder, warned that a 15-mile detour would cause more accidents and asked the councillor if he had calculated the number.

He told the meetings that ambulances came from as far away as Colchester, Cambridge and Harlow. “Every minute of delay in the arrival of help increases the risk that the patient might die.”

It would also hinder the fire service he said. “I have seen the remains of people after an inferno. You are possibly condemning somebody else in this community to die this horrendous death.”

He then warned of possible legal action and damage claims if an inquest found the detour implicated.

Others referred to the lack of public consultation.

Architect Robert Wood said: “You need demonstrable evidence of community backing and you are a long way from that. Your obtuseness is leaving us little recourse, apart from legal recourse and I think that’s where we are heading.”

Linda Cutts, practice manager at Freshwell Health Centre said: “When the bridge is closed doctors will be faced with a long diversion or using the possibly blocked lanes. Both could lead to life-threatening delays.”

However, it was after the quiet plea of Finchingfield Primary School’s headteacher Lisa Feldman, who arrived at the meeting early to get a seat at the front, that something changed.

Mrs Feldman said: “I beg you to reconsider. I have 60 people, staff and children I feel responsible for. My children and their parents will be using these unsafe shortcuts. One of these roads is in front of my school. It is usually a quiet road but it became dangerous during the bridge closure. I beg you to reconsider this.”

After that someone shouted: “We want a crossing. We don’t want a footpath on the bridge, we don’t want it widened. Just give us a crossing.”

All through, Cllr Johnson said: “I have a budget”. Everyone had heard it before so now he was not allowed to finish his sentence. He was told he was arrogant. His suggestion that the emergency services parked a car either side of the bridge was not well received.

Eventually, he made himself heard:

“I want to say that I have a budget, but I am prepared to look at how to juggle the budget. I will look at that. I will ask my officers to look again at the costings.”

Suddenly, the applause was for him.