Saturday, 18 April 2009

A bridge, a horse and a cooke

The sorry saga of the replacement Long Horse Bridge at Derwentmouth continues. An earlier bridge, which carried the Trent towpath over to the Trent & Mersey Canal, was demolished by British Waterways back in 2003, who then chucked the whole thing over to the witless planners of Derbyshire County Council.

They devised a scheme whereby a direct replacement (designed for use by horses, remember; it was a towpath bridge) had to be replaced by a different, wider, bigger bridge in a different place so it would be suitable for horses. Sometimes this stuff just makes itself up, eh?

One dogged opponent - John Cooke of Shardlow - has refused to let the various authorities get away with it and has been harrying them at every turn. Sadly, the nonchalant, stubbornness of council staff knows no bounds and despite the absurdities and inconsistencies of the Council proposals, their bridge will probably get built now. Boaters are moreorless the only user group not directly consulted but almost the only ones who directly pay for waterways facilities, unlike pedestrians, cyclists or horse-riders.

The arrogant nonsense written in several e-mails by both BW and particularly Derbyshire County Council staff is breathtaking, as is the way they now blame opponents for the delay in getting a bridge in place. It's like that story about the lad, after being found guilty of murdering his parents, pleading leniency on the grounds that he's an orphan! This really is "New Britain" at its greasy, spin-doctored worst: smooth-talking council officials talking crap and taking an age to provide information to anyone.

All that's necessary is a replacement bridge for towpath users: this requires no compulsory land acquisition, no extended planning processes, no hedgerow surveys, ecological audits, parish council debates, evaluations by the "cabinets of Derbyshire and Leicestershire County Councils" or anything else.
If Sustrans, the British Horse Society, the County Council or anyone else wants a hook-up for horses and cycles doing the Midshires Way (Yes, that's what I thought; it's a long-distance path that links two other non-entity long-distance paths), then they can pay for a separate bridge elsewhere. Or make do with a 1.9 metre wide bridge. Or start paying a shedload of money every year for a licence like boaters. Only if you pay the money, people in organisations like British Waterways and Derbyshire County Council tend to completely ignore you. Since when have horse-riders been a socially-excluded or deprived group? Even close by, horse-riders need to make do with paths considerably narrower than the direct replacement bridge, busy roads and low arch bridges, yet all this is ignored by the great and the gormless intent on spending considerably more ratepayer money than necessary. It's all fairly shameful.

The full story is available on John Cooke's website and I'd really urge you to contact John or speak out in opposition to the plans, especially if you live locally. Anyone from outside the area will get short thrift from council officials, because that's the way they are.

I always thought his was the kind of pioneering campaigning that the IWA was supposed to do. What do they do these days? Everyone has a go at Aickmann, but I bet this was a battle he would have won. Where have all the campaigners gone? At least there are people like John Cooke around who don't give up easily.

Long Horse Bridge should be replaced with a simple, bridge in the original position because:
  • it's all that's needed - it's a waterway facility.
  • it's a safety issue because this is a flowing, deep river and easy access to the bank is important. A bridge with high railings is not a waterways facility.
  • it's a heritage issue - the bridge has been on that site since the Trent & Mersey Canal opened
  • it's less money
  • there are good, acceptable, low-cost alternatives for horse-riders if they don't like using a bridge that was acceptable for horses down the ages

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