Public meeting to discuss Finchingfield bridge closure expected to be ‘big and angry’

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

A “big and angry” meeting is expected in Finchingfield in protest at the closure of the village bridge.

The picturesque village, which claims to be the most photographed in Britain, is incensed at a plan by Essex County Council to close the bridge for four months next year for repair.

A meeting in the village hall on November 17 has been called by Finchingfield Parish Council.

Villagers are puzzled why, despite a formal Freedom of Information request, there has been no explanation as to why the bridge must be closed for so long - or why they cannot have a temporary bridge erected instead of a 15-mile detour through other villages.

A Freedom of Information request was sent to Essex County Council on August 13 and should have been answered within 20 days. To date there has been no reply.

The temporary bridge option, possibly to be built by the military at nearby Carver Barracks, has the support of the village’s MP, James Cleverly, Conservative MP for Braintree.

Mr Cleverly, a reservist lieutenant colonel in the Royal Artillery, told the Broadcast: “I’m exploring the possibility of the armed forces building a bridge.”

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The villagers say there has been no response from Essex County Council to letters from the fire service or the village medical centre, both of whom have said a detour would put lives at risk.

Meanwhile surveys have begun, to include geotechnical and structural investigations.

Alex Robinson, who runs Finchingfield Post Office, said: “This is going to be a big and angry meeting. We are extremely unhappy. We think the whole thing has been very amateurish. They have failed to carry out any proper consultation. These surveys should have taken place before they decided how long the bridge should be closed for. That’s why they can’t answer our questions.

“No one has had any response from Councillor Eddie Johnson.”

Cllr Johnson, cabinet member for highways maintenance and small scheme delivery at Essex County Council, is expected to be at the meeting as is Mr Cleverly.

Both Linda Cutts, practice manager at the health centre (who also wrote to NHS England) and Darren Hockley, officer in charge of the fire station have warned of serious consequences if the bridge is closed.

The townspeople have asked for the minutes of the meeting at which the bridge was identified as being in need of structural strengthening, and the reasons for it.

They want to know how the bridge’s capacity was assessed. They have asked for the final technical assessment document. They want to see reports detailing the costs for alternatives to closure including building a temporary bridge.

They want to see the proposed design of the new bridge and the work schedule to see how the contractors, Ringway Jacobs, arrived at the estimate of four months for the task. They are also asking for records of public consultation and any documents detailing feedback from residents. (They say there has been no consultation.)

Cllr Eddie Johnson, told the Broadcast: “We are in the process of discussions with interested parties in relation to essential maintenance work on Finchingfield bridge.

“So far we have made a decision in principle but this marks just the beginning of a dialogue with stakeholders which will continue over the coming months until work is scheduled to begin in July 2016. I can assure residents no work will take place until we have considered all the issues and ideas, and are confident the appropriate contingencies are in place.”

The public meeting will be on Tuesday, November 17, at 6.30pm at Finchingfield Village Hall.