What's happening to Whorlton Bridge.
In 2019, due to a report of damage to the bridge, an inspection forced us to close it to all vehicles as we had to carry out further investigation into the cause.
Since closing the bridge, a diversion has been in place and we have employed specialist independent engineers to carry out a detailed inspection to find out the current condition of the bridge.
Unfortunately, having completed the assessments, we have closed the bridge from Saturday 5 December to all users due to public safety. We appreciate that it provides a route across the river for local residents and people visiting the area, but it is unsafe to use and public safety is our priority. We would like to thank local residents for their patience.
An 1829 act of parliament granted permission for the building of Whorlton Bridge as part of the Staindrop to Greta Bridge turnpike. Unfortunately, the initial structure was washed away in flooding, so construction started again in 1830 of the single span chain bridge suspension bridge.
The bridge was formally opened 7 July 1831 and was originally designed to carry horse and carts with coal from the Durham coal fields to the south. In 1914 the structure was assessed and it was recommended that a 3 ton weight limit be imposed on the bridge which has remained in place to date.
In December 1942, prime minister Winston Churchill stood on Whorlton Bridge to watch soldiers train in the meadows on the south bank, wade through the river Tees and then tackle the steep Durham cliffs.
It is a Grade 2 listed structure and a scheduled monument. It is the UK's oldest road suspension bridge with the deck totally supported by its original iron chains. It is also the UK's earliest surviving example of an iron chained suspension bridge with twin battered masonry pylons at each end.
Why it has closed
The assessment has identified that the bridge is no longer able to support vehicles or pedestrians and some parts of the structure are not even capable of supporting the weight of the bridge itself.
This problem is not in a few isolated areas, but across the whole structure.
What happens next
Because the bridge is a grade 2 listed structure and a scheduled monument, we will need to work closely with Historic England and the Environment Agency while we develop testing proposals.
The proposals will be non-destructive testing as well as dismantling parts of the structure so we can inspect hidden areas. We must make an application for Scheduled Monument Consent (SMC) to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport before we can do any work on the bridge.
We hope to submit our plans to Historic England by April 2021, and if approved, complete strengthening work by March 2022. Our goal is to make sure the bridge is stable, and we will review its potential future use at that point.
In the meantime we are investigating whether construction of an alternative crossing for pedestrians is feasible, although this is highly unlikely due to the surrounding landscape and the width of the crossing that would be needed.