Removal of historic Brockenhurst footbridge stopped amid residents' fury
THE planned removal of a Brockenhurst footbridge said to have been in place for more than 125 years has been halted amid villagers' fury.
Parish councillors and residents banded together to protest after it emerged Forestry England and Hampshire County Council held discussions over the structure, close to Martins Lane and Meerut Road.
It is popular among locals and dog walkers where, according to an Ordnance Survey map, there has been a crossing since at least 1895.
When news emerged it was at risk, Brockenhurst parish councillor Ros Bowles notified villagers, who took to Facebook and urged people to lobby HCC to keep it.
"This is shocking," one angry villager said. "Why do they have to keep barring folk from their heritage surrounding them?"
The reaction prompted a letter of reply by HCC which said the decision over the removal of the bridge was now being delayed "given the depth of feeling".
Amidst the outcry, HCC leader Keith Mans interrupted his political campaigning for re-election to the village's county council seat to visit the site. He pledged any work would be "postponed until further discussions with Forestry England have taken place".
He added: "Please be assured I will do what I can to retain this bridge."
Brockenhurst parish councillors debated the matter at their annual meeting on Tuesday and said they were "disappointed" not to have been consulted before receiving a letter from HCC saying the bridge was set to go.
They added the footbridge was "extremely well used by residents" and there were no reports of accidents or injuries there, but appreciated the bridge was in a "state of disrepair".
When contacted by the A&T, neither HCC nor Forestry England would confirm what had been proposed about the bridge, with both noting that there had been confusion.
An HCC spokesperson said the bridge is on land owned by Forestry England although some historical records had said it belonged to the council.
There had been "consultation" between the two bodies over the footbridge, but it did not go into further details.
They added: "We will jointly be considering the most appropriate next steps for the footbridge. Further meetings are planned with Forestry England in the next few weeks."
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Forestry England said it did not build the footbridge and has not been maintaining it.
They added: "Hampshire County Council have contacted us regarding this bridge together with a number of others and are keen to have discussions regarding the future maintenance of the bridges.
"A site visit is planned, so we’ll have further information once we have spoken in detail with Hampshire County Council."
Brockenhurst parish councillors noted it was a steel box girder bridge and remedial works could potentially be at "a reasonable cost". They suggested funding could come from the Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan the parish council has helped develop with HCC, among others.
Members voted to lobby HCC to be actively consulted and involved over the matter.