Why is a new bridge needed?
The original bridge was built in the mid-19th century (the date 1866 can be seen on the bridge) and as such was never designed with modern traffic in mind. Despite repairs and modifications over the years the existing bridge layout is much the same as when it was built. As a key local road, Norton Road is expected to carry a reasonable amount of heavy goods vehicles. Not only does York’s Bridge have a weight limit of 7.5 tonnes (well below the national requirement for 44 tonnes) but the poor horizontal and vertical alignments make it unsuitable for anything but smaller vehicles. Walsall Council is the local Highway Authority and as such we have a duty to ensure the roads in the borough are up to standard. This includes replacing road bridges if necessary. If the council fails in its duty it is possible that the Department for Transport could step in to develop the solution it sees fit.
Why can’t the existing bridge be strengthened?
The council has looked into the feasibility of strengthening the existing bridge but this idea has been discounted on the grounds of practicality and because it would not address the alignment problems. The only ways to strengthen the bridge is either to strengthen the underside of the arch or strengthen the top of the arch. Strengthening the underside would entail adding reinforcement and concrete which would reduce the headroom to the towpath and the canal. The Canal and River Trust have strict requirements for headroom and it is likely these would be compromised by the strengthening. Work to the top of the arch would add height to the existing roadway which would mean exaggerating the current humped alignment as well as requiring the brick parapets to be demolished and rebuilt. It is possible even with both sets of strengthening that the required weight limit might not be achieved.
What will happen to the old bridge?
The existing bridge will remain and other than a small amount of work to the one wing wall it will not be affected by the new bridge. The existing road over the bridge will be retained as highway and will serve as access to the Fingerpost pub and to the access track which serves the common and the lock keepers cottages.
Will the new bridge have a name?
The new bridge has not been named but if there is a desire for this the council would be pleased to promote a naming competition, probably through local schools.
Will the canal and towpath access be affected?
To ensure the safety of the public there could be certain times during the construction of the new bridge when access to the towpath will be restricted. If feasible a diversion will be put in place but this cannot be decided until construction plans are agreed. Once the new structure is in place the towpath will be available as it is at present. The canal waterway is not expected to be affected although there will be some short closure(s) needed when the new bridge beams are lowered into place.
Will there be access to the canal towpath from the new bridge?
The proposals are for a new footpath link to the canal towpath from the eastern side of Norton Road which provide direct access to the towpath from the new structure. This has been requested by the Canal & River Trust and will feature barriers to prevent access to the towpath by cycles. Access to the towpath will still remain from across the common or through the car park of the Fingerpost pub.
How much will it cost?
The estimated cost of the scheme is £3 million.
Will the scheme increase traffic?
The proposed new bridge is being built because the existing bridge is not capable of meeting the current traffic demands and to improve safety. The council does not envisage increases in traffic as a result of construction of the new bridge beyond usual traffic growth.
Will the scheme lead to increased vehicular speed?
Once the new bridge is open the improved alignments will allow traffic to move much more freely along Norton Road. The current speed limits are:
- from the A4124 Fingerpost junction to north of the bridge — 30mph
- from north of the bridge to the borough boundary — 40mph
- in South Staffordshire — 50mph.
The council recognises that the improved alignment might tempt drivers to exceed the speed limits and as such the speed limit will be restricted to 30mph from the borough boundary to the A4124 Fingerpost junction. Consideration is also being given to interactive speed signs that light up when speeding vehicles are detected.
Will there be more heavy goods vehicles in Pelsall village?
The council does not expect any significant increase in the amount of HGVs through Pelsall village as a result of the new bridge. Obviously the weight restriction on the existing bridge is preventing some HGVs from using Norton Lane but there is no indication that once the new bridge is in place the route through the village will be more attractive than the established HGV routes. Nevertheless, the council recognises the potential for an increase and is considering imposing an environmental weight restriction to protect the character of Pelsall village. This will be subject to normal statutory processes but if imposed the restriction would likely be between the A4124 Fingerpost junction to the north and the Rushall junction to the south.
How will traffic be affected while the new bridge is under construction?
Under current proposals the existing bridge is to remain. This means that the new bridge can be constructed alongside the existing bridge and traffic can continue to use Norton Road with very little disruption. At some time the new road will need to meet the existing and there could be some limited disruption. The selected contractor will be instructed to keep any disruption to a minimum.
How long will the construction take?
We would expect the new bridge itself to take around 10 months to build. After this, the approach roads and embankments need to be built which could take another six to eight months. Overall we would expect the work to be completed within 18 months..
Can loss of common land be avoided?
The short answer is no. Even if it were possible to construct a new bridge using the existing road alignment the new bridge would have to be wider, so some common would be lost. The current proposals reflect local views that the historic existing bridge should be retained, which means that more common land is needed.
How much common land will be lost?
The area of common land required for the new bridge and highway is approximately 2,500 m2, (that’s about five times the size of the Fingerpost pub car park). To offset this, the council is intending to formally register 4,000 m2 of replacement common land at High Bridges, adjacent to the A4124 Lichfield Road. This area of land is owned by Walsall Council and is currently densely overgrown with trees and shrubs. Use of this land will provide a nett gain of approximately 1,500 m2 of common land. To permit the contractor some room for access and storage of permitted materials during construction, some additional common land will be temporarily de-registered. Once construction is finished this land will be suitably reinstated, landscaped and re-registered as common.
Is the council simply pushing through the scheme?
The council is anxious to take on board as many views as possible and the current proposals already reflect some of the comments and wishes provided by individuals and groups in the previous consultation. During February and March 2019 the council will be carrying out further consultations both on the proposed de-registration of common land and in advance of submitting a planning application. During this time people will have an opportunity to put forward their comments and ideas. At the end of the process the council will review this feedback and where possible will incorporate peoples’ wishes into the scheme. Following these consultations, the council will be submitting a formal application for planning consent and this will give a further opportunity for public comment. Finally, the council has to make a formal application to the Secretary of State to de-register the required common land. This process also allows a period for objections/ comments.
What will happen to existing wildlife?
Environmental Impact Assessments and Habitat Regulations Assessments have been carried out so that the impact of the scheme on the local wildlife and ecology are understood and are appropriately dealt with. These assessments are available to view under ‘useful documents’ on the York’s Bridge replacement scheme page on the council’s website.
Wildlife surveys have been carried out on the area of common that will be lost or disturbed and species such as the common lizard and grass snakes have been identified. Plans are being prepared that will deal with properly controlled trapping and relocation of these reptiles (to the other side of the common) prior to work starting. The new scheme will also create some new and different habitats which should encourage a greater diversity of wildlife
What is being done to protect the ecology?
As with the wildlife the ecology of the common has been considered. The area earmarked to be lost is largely self-seeded scrub land which in itself has relatively low value as common land. Nationally, significant areas of heath land are being lost and the creation and preservation of heath land is positively encouraged. While it may not always be possible to create heath land (it requires the correct soil conditions) the council has taken advice on how best to reinstate the areas of common that will only be temporarily de-registered. Additionally, acting on advice from the council’s countryside services manager, we are considering proposals to carry out some mitigation work on the common west of Norton Road.
There is an area where scrub is starting to take hold and patches of invasive Japanese Knotweed have also been observed. The countryside services manager has requested that this area be cleared and returned to heath land.
These proposals are available to view under ‘useful documents’ on the York’s Bridge replacement scheme page on the council’s website.