Tories and Labour pledge to save Finchingfield Bridge

Campaigners staging a protest on Finchingfield bridge

Campaigners staging a protest on Finchingfield bridge - Credit: Archant

Pledges to save Finchingfield Bridge and protect the famous vista of one of Britain’s most-visited villages have been made by both the Conservative and Labour candidates for the county council elections on May 4.

The packed meeting at St John the Baptist Church in Finchingfield protesting at the proposed 14-mile

The packed meeting at St John the Baptist Church in Finchingfield protesting at the proposed 14-mile detour through county lanes for traffic - Credit: Archant

Graham Butland, Conservative leader of Braintree District Council and a sitting cabinet member of Essex County Council, is standing for the County Hall seat of Three Fields and Great Notley – which includes Finchingfield.

Labour’s Juliet Walton is also contesting this seat – and they have each pledged their support for villagers fighting county council plans to put a modern concrete bridge over the village pond.

Cllr Butland said: “It would spoil a view known throughout the world if a second bridge were put up there.”

He said Braintree had gained money from the building of new homes and £150,000 could be given to Finchingfield towards the cost of a temporary bridge while the historic one was being repaired.

In an email to Finchingfield campaigner and firefighter Barry Gilbey, Cllr Butland wrote: “I am on record as supporting the repairing and strengthening of the existing bridge and the provision of a temporary crossing while the work is being done. I am not only in support of this proposal but, in my role as leader of Braintree District Council I am willing to allocate £150,000 from the council’s New Homes Bonus to match other funding to cover the additional cost of a temporary bridge.”

The Labour candidate Juliet Walton also emailed Mr Gilbey saying: “I would support the community consultation results and, if elected, I would ask for a review of the decision and the costings.

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“I would assume there would be access to other funds from organisations like Heritage Lottery for such a view as exists in Finchingfield. That could help lower costs to Essex County Council.”

Mr Gilbey wrote to all five candidates standing for the seat but so far only the Conservatives and Labour have replied.

The news was welcomed by Finchingfield Parish Council chairman, Graham Tobbell who, with his wife Sue, over a year ago pledged £100,000 of his own money to build a temporary bridge and save the village vista.

Cllr Tobbell had colour images created of the county’s designs for two bridges across the village pond and sent them to every councillor on Essex County Council to show them how the development would change the village.

Cllr Tobbell told this paper: “This is great news. It can no longer be argued that a temporary bridge is unaffordable.”

The wrangling over the Finchingfield Bridge has been going on since August 2015. At first, the county council wanted to impose a 14-mile detour through narrow country lanes for heavy lorries and all the other traffic while the old bridge was being repaired.

After the villagers pointed out how dangerous this would be, the council backed down and suggested two permanent bridges across the tiny pond. When the villagers rebelled against this, the project was postponed and the council fell silent – it has since been considering options.

Campaigner Alex Robinson, the village postmistress, said: “I’m still not convinced that any work needs doing on the bridge. We have never been shown the surveys, despite a Freedom of Information request, or a breakdown of the costings.

“We have shouted for so long and so loud that they have now backed off. But someone made that initial decision to spend £750,000 on building a new bridge. Who is responsible for that decision now?”

A statement from Essex County Council said: “We are currently reviewing the options available to us in relation to Finchingfield bridge and we will continue to work and liaise with the local district and parish councils as our plans develop.”

Due to election restrictions it is unable to comment on other funding suggestions.

Other candidates standing in the seat are: Graham Sheppard (Lib Dem), Sean Carter (UKIP), Bob Wright (Green).