THE ARTICLE you published on January 12 (‘Bridge barriers could be removed at last’) is based on a press release from Wey and Arun Canal Trust that, sadly, is rather misleading. It implies that the barriers were built properly, within planning authorisation and are only being replaced at the request of Loxwood residents, who must therefore pay up.
I’m afraid the truth is rather different, and reflects poorly on: a) local government structures; b) on WACT; but c) not at all on Loxwood residents or others who object so strongly and rightfully to those inappropriate parapets.
The initial inquiry from WACT to WSCC regarding the crossing of September 18, 2003, was for both steel pilings as abutments and a lift or swing bridge. Those not familiar with steel abutments can see them in their rusty unsightly glory on the Arun Valley and Brighton rail lines into Clapham Junction and at various motorway works about the northern M25. These abutments were rejected by WSCC on the grounds of maintenance cost, and the lift/swing bridge rejected because of unacceptable delays to road traffic as the B2133 does not have a local alternative road during necessary lengthy closures.
Your readers should note that as a bridge and highways authority WSCC, is subject to aesthetic approval from the planning authority, in this case Chichester District Council.
Subsequently WACT presented a design for a grey swathe of concrete surfaces insisting this was required by WSCC, but offering parapets consisting of a pair of light horizontal rails with light verticals all galvanised and one-metre high. The local discussion was focused on whether the light galvanised rails might look better painted.
Representations that many canal and rail and road bridges and viaducts more than 100 years old and constructed of brick are still in use were ignored.
After submission to CDC the design was considered by WSCC and in discussions with WSCC and its sub-contractor (who would be responsible for maintaining the crossing after ‘adoption’ by WSCC) the current tank trap design was preferred, even though the statutory requirements included taking heed of the local built and other environment aspects.
The crossing is adjacent to the (at the time) sole Loxwood public house, the Onslow Arms, a Grade II building of some real charm, and the beautiful high-arc Horse Bridge with one-metre canal brick parapets to the north west of the crossing built to the requirements of a local landowner.
Complications included a very late requirement imposed by the WSCC rights of way officer who added a 0.8-metre high and relatively heavy ‘horse rail’ to the one-metre tank traps, whereupon WACT built the parapets without further reference to either Loxwood residents or to the planning authority responsible for aesthetic considerations rather than structural issues.
Thus the tank trap design was built without planning permission having been granted, and bearing in mind the aesthetic considerations imposed by statutory instruments, it seems improbable that such approval would have been granted.
The outcry about the tank traps arose from a one-week survey in the Loxwood Stores and a public meeting I organised at North Hall that resulted in many from outside Loxwood adding their voices to the objections of Loxwood residents.
Notably neither the WACT chairman nor its project manager for the crossing could defend their decisions and actions during the public meeting and indeed the project manager admitted to having no contemporaneous notes of any relevant meetings. Tellingly, neither had a response to Len Milsom’s statement that a year delay in the restoration of the canal – two miles in 20 years – was nothing compared with 100 years of ugly parapets in Loxwood!
Perhaps as a result, CDC issued a notice of an impending enforcement order to restore the design to that indicatively approved. In response WACT submitted a design replacing the tank traps with brick-clad reinforcement walls either side of the road with a lower and lighter horse rail, as well as various improvements to the side railings.
These have been approved by both WSCC from a strength and safety and maintainability perspective and Loxwood PC and CDC and WACT began work (relatively little was actually achieved thus far) in order to qualify under planning regulations for a ten-year period to complete the work. At no stage has any freedom of information request shown WSCC and CDC exchanged data about the design WACT decided to accept, nor has WACT been shown to have sought CDC’s aesthetic approval for the tank trap design. It is no surprise therefore that apart from fundraising from charities and local authority grants, donations have been made to a considerable extent by WACT members, due directly to the hard work of Len Milsom, chairman of the Loxwood Society, and Sally Schupke, chairman of the WACT.