The future of a closed Derby Bridge could become clearer within days after a report on its condition was presented to council officials. As of Monday (June 13) it had been a month since the bridge between Darley Abbey Mills and Old Lane in the village of Darley was closed to all pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles.
At a meeting on Thursday 9th June it was announced that further assessments of the bridge structure to be carried out by Derby City Council should be completed. The findings of that report have now been fed back to officials who will make decisions on whether the structure could be saved, how long it will take and what the costs will be. A meeting with emergency services, planning officials and the Environment Agency is due to take place next week.
A separate report is also to be given to officials on the feasibility of a temporary pedestrian bridge adjacent to the existing bridge, but this would need to be leased or purchased and would require the Environment Agency’s approval. As such, it probably wouldn’t open until October and could cost upwards of £500,000.
Read more: The first crisis warning for Darley Abbey Bridge was seven years ago
The only way to access Darley Abbey Mills, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is via Haslams Lane, which is itself a private road. Council officials say it could cost between £3.5million and £5million to get traffic back on the bridge.
After presenting the report, Amanda Solloway, MP for Derby North, said: “Following my continued communication with Derby City Council, I am delighted that they have received the reports from the extended assessment of the bridge and are further examining the possibility of an interim solution.
“I am aware that the Council’s emergency planning team will be meeting with the emergency services and the Environment Agency next week and I look forward to hearing updates on any discussions on progress made. I continue to work with the council, businesses and residents on this matter and have not only been in contact with government ministers but have also reached out to the Lottery Heritage Fund to meet.
“Darley Abbey is a beautiful place to live, work and visit and it is important that we reconnect the mill complex with the village and wider community to support the livelihoods of residents and businesses.”
The MP also said she had written to the Lottery Heritage Fund and had discussions with the Crown Estate, the Department for Transport and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Derby City Council continues to explore ways it can support businesses in the meantime.
The bridge was closed after inspectors found serious safety issues and were able to pull concrete away with their bare hands. The Grade I listed Victorian structure could collapse under its own weight due to its structural weaknesses.
Speaking to members of the public and local business owners at The Shed, a function room in the mills, Nigel Brien, the council’s head of transport and transport, said part of the damage was due to seasonal flooding, but the Victorian foundations were the best preserved parts of the structure.
However, even if the existing bridge can be repaired, there is no guarantee that the Council can repair it. This is because the bridge is owned by the Crown Estate through a complicated legal process known as escheat, meaning it falls into the hands of the monarch after being unowned for an extended period of time.
The Crown Estate is not paying to repair the bridge to avoid the associated liability, but that means it cannot be repaired until it is sold. Even if the bridge can be renovated, the municipality may not be able to complete this work because it cannot assume the liabilities and costs associated with the repair.
Following last Thursday’s meeting, Derby Councilor for Darley, Martin Repton, said: “Unfortunately, there is growing recognition and acceptance that the Crown Estate and Government will continue to avoid taking responsibility for the bridge.
“Solving this through them alone, even if the city council and mill owners were willing to do their part, could take years. What Derby City Council therefore seems reluctant to accept is that they must independently initiate and fund all plans to repair, if at all possible, and provide a temporary footbridge, and then attempt to reclaim financial help and support from other parties at a later date .
“This is not ideal, but the current unacceptable situation must not be prolonged as many businesses and local people are affected every day and their lives are negatively impacted. As a councillor, I will continue to press all parties to do whatever they can to clean up this mess as quickly as possible.”
Cllr Repton said there is to be another meeting on Monday June 27 to confirm more details on who can cross the river and when.