Inspector blocks bid to infill Keswick-Penrith rail bridge

Date: Friday 8th August 2014

A GOVERNMENT planning inspector’s decision has blocked a proposal to fill up the void beneath a bridge on the line of the old Keswick-Penrith railway.

Although a report suggested that the future reuse of the line was not realistic in the short term, the inspector, David Fitzsimon, ruled that infilling beneath Highgate Close Bridge, at Troutbeck, would only add to existing obstacles and further reduce the medium to longer term prospects of a sustainable transport route reopening.

An appeal by the Highways Agency Historical Railways Estate against the refusal of the Lake District National Park Authority to allow the infilling of the void underneath the bridge did not succeed.

The inspector was told the proposal would conflict with development plan policies which safeguard the route of the former Keswick-Penrith railway line, which was dismantled in 1972.

It was, said the inspector, a “finely balanced matter” which in his view was a design solution driven predominantly by cost.

He said the main issue was whether the arguments in favour of the proposal outweighed development plan policies which safeguarded the line for future reuse as a sustainable transport route.

Highgate Close Bridge, made predominantly of sandstone, carries an unclassified road and has been identified in the national park authority’s environmental record as a non-statutory heritage asset.

The agency’s intention in infilling beneath the bridge was to strengthen the structure and reduce long-term maintenance. It argued that, as a public body, it had a duty to secure the best value for money, and infilling represented the most cost effective strengthening solution.

However, the park authority said infilling would conflict with policies that seek to protect the former railway line from development and compromise its future reuse as a transport route.

A study carried out in 2007 concluded the short-term prospects were limited, but medium-term delivery might be more realistic.

It stressed the importance of not taking decisions which could preclude its future development, and Mr. Fitzsimon, in his decision paper, said he understood CKP Railways Reopening Project had invested £400,000 in design and development work relating to the reopening of the line.

The Highways Agency felt reopening was “unlikely for many reasons”, including financial, land ownership complications and physical obstructions.

In the unlikely event that these obstacles could be overcome, the earth could be removed at about five per cent. of the cost of a new bridge, which would be required if the route was reopened to trains.

In giving his decision to refuse the appeal, the inspector said infilling the void beneath the bridge would only add to the existing obstacles and further reduce the medium to longer term prospects which, according to the JMP Consultants’ report, “were more favourable”.

The Cockermouth, Keswick and Penrith Railway was incorporated by Act of Parliament in 1861 and opened four years later.

It closed west of Keswick in 1966, followed, in March, 1972, by closure of the the Penrith-Keswick section. Parts of the old line are now walking and cycling routes.