Parish council chairman denounces plans to build two bridges over Finchingfield pond

Finchingfield Bridge

Finchingfield Bridge - Credit: Archant

If villagers in Finchingfield continue to fight a scheme to put a second, larger, wider, crossing next to their quaint little bridge over their tiny pond – they could face a 14-mile detour round country lanes after all – they have been warned.

Rodney Bass, head of highways at Essex County Council has put this in a letter to Councillor Graham Tobbell, chairman of Finchingfield Parish Council.

Cllr Bass has now replied to an offer from Cllr Tobbell who several months ago offered £100,000 of his own savings to save the village vista.

Cllr Bass wrote: “Any further delays could jeopardise any bridge improvements in Finchingfield and thereby force us to revert to the lengthy diversion which we are all now trying to actively avoid.”

Cllr Tobbell said: “This letter from Councillor Bass is a blatant threat – and it’s an impotent threat, because there has been wholesale rejection of the diversion from every quarter, from the school, the doctors surgery, from local businesses.

“We had the experience of the bridge being out of action for a week (when a lorry crashed into a wall at the edge of the bridge in October) when people did need to use a diversion and it was utter chaos.

“The idea of two bridges over a small pond in Finchingfield is ridiculous. No one has said it’s the best solution, not even the council’s engineers at the meetings. It has been suggested purely on grounds of cost. I’ve not heard any one say they want two bridges over a tiny pond. It’s a nut-case idea.”

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The two bridges scheme emerged at the end of last year after a meeting of villagers with County Councillor Eddie Johnson, responsible for highways. Over 400 people made it crystal clear that a four-month traffic diversion through country lanes was unacceptable. A petition signed by over 2,800 people called for a temporary bridge.

So the county backed down and said there would be no diversion. But there would be no temporary bridge. The work, due to start in July 2016 would be put back to 2017. But now there would now be TWO bridges across the pond.

The old one would stay in use while a new bridge was built and after the work was completed, the old bridge would become a footway.

Cllr Tobbell said: “There is going to be a lot of reaction to this threat from outside the village and outside the county. According to the Sunday Times this year, Finchingfield is the best place in Essex to live. According to the Daily Telegraph, it is the most photographed village in Britain.”

“During the Tour de France, the picture used by four national newspapers and broadcast on television was the picture of the cyclists going through Finchingfield.”

In his letter, Cllr Bass has also turned down Cllr Tobbell’s offer of £100,000 saying a temporary bridge would still be too expensive.

Cllr Tobbell said: “His letter is talking as if my contribution was purely towards a temporary bridge – it wasn’t for the temporary bridge, it was to close the gap between the cost of what the village wants and the council’s budget. They have quoted the difference at £200,000.

“Those figures are only based on one quote. If the council puts the project out to tender, as it has said it will, the figure quoted of £850,000 could come down to £750,000, in which case with my £100,000 it will cost no more than the council has budgeted for.

As reported, Essex County Council has said it will invite bids but so far has quoted the cost as calculated by Ringway Jacobs, which in 2012 was named as the council’s preferred contractor.

A small company, Anglia Civils, an award-winning bridge specialist, has said the old bridge could be repaired from underneath without the need for a diversion or a temporary bridge for about £60,000 – a tenth of Ringway Jacobs’ quote. But so far, Anglia Civils’ offer has met a stony silence.

Meanwhile, villagers suspect a more complicated motive for the two bridge scheme. Firefighter Barry Gilbey said: “I can’t believe the county council is so short-sighted that it can’t see that it will ruin the future of the village.

“There is a plan to build 4,850 homes on the old airfield site at Wethersfield. This will mean another 5,000 cars. And any traffic from Haverhill, Dunmow or Saffron Walden has got to cross the pond. That includes construction lorries.”

Postmistress Alex Robinson said: “We’ve all had enough. Rodney Bass is bullying us, he’s saying he will either destroy our economy or our vista. That’s completely unacceptable.

“They still don’t have a design or a budget, or a timescale – they have no plans and they still haven’t proved there is anything wrong with the bridge. They haven’t given any response to the £60,000 option. What are they playing at?

“Rodney Bass has forgotten he is a servant of the people. People are sick of being told what to do by a jumped up local government official. They said they wouldn’t respond to individuals, they would talk to the parish council – and they are now ignoring the parish council so who exactly will they talk to in the democratic process? This is a highways department out of control.”