Public pressure forces Network Rail to update major Whaley Bridge repair plans

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Network Rail has issued an update on plans to replace a historic High Peak bridge over several weeks in early 2023, after cancelling two community information events amid a chorus of complaints about the project’s potential to cause gridlock on the roads.

The public transport body is set to begin a £5.1million scheme in January to replace parts of the bridge over the A5004 Buxton Road in Whaley Bridge, while preserving some of its grade II-listed features.

Officials had previously announced that they would be closing the road to traffic and pedestrians in stages between January 9 and March 31, raising concerns from Whaley residents – particularly parents and carers needing access to Whaley Bridge Primary School – and Buxton motorists who have been forced to use the route given simultaneous works on the A6 at Fairfield Common.

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During a period of great upheaval across the rail network, opportunities for the community to engage with project planners were announced and then cancelled abruptly without explanation, leaving people feeling that their voices would not be listened to even as criticism piled up online and via the High Peak Borough Council planning department.

The bridge has stood above Buxton Road since 1863 but is now presenting serious safety risks.The bridge has stood above Buxton Road since 1863 but is now presenting serious safety risks.
The bridge has stood above Buxton Road since 1863 but is now presenting serious safety risks.

High Peak MP Robert Largan took up the cause and on Tuesday, December 20, met with representatives from Network Rail and highways authority Derbyshire County Council in an attempt to resolve the issues.

Mr Largan said: “Given where we were last week, with Network Rail refusing to engage with anyone and with Derbyshire County Council failing to respond to my enquiries, I am glad that such clarity has now been provided.

“I’m very pleased that I have been able to get so many concessions from both Network Rail and the council, and that they are now listening to local residents again. It is unacceptable that residents were ever sidelined, but I am glad that attitudes have changed and this now appears to have been rectified.”

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He added: “I will continue to liaise with Network Rail, the council, local schools and bus operators to ensure that the works are as swift as possible and that the best arrangements possible are enacted to minimise reduction.”

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While some local residents have questioned the heritage value of the bridge, its listed status means that Network Rail must take a more considered, and therefore longer, approach to its repair and replacement.

As previously publicised, the road will be limited to single line traffic under the bridge January 9-15, then fully closed January 16 to March 21.

However, it is now understood that pedestrian access on the road will be limited to just seven school days between February 16 and March 6, compared with the previous start date of February 4.

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Network Rail will also contribute to improving the lighting and surfacing in the Memorial Park in order to ensure public safety as people use it as a pedestrian diversion.

Local businesses, especially those south of the bridge such as Horwich End Post Office, are bracing for the inevitable effects of the closure and although Network Rail says it is unable to offer financial compensation, it will enter into discussions with those affected to see what can be done to minimise the impact.

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A spokesperson for Network Rail said: “We held a constructive call with Robert Largan MP to further explain the reasons why we must carry out our essential railway repairs in Whaley Bridge.

“We understand that closing Buxton Road will cause disruption and assured him that we’re open to work with local people and the council to make sure the full closure is as short as possible. We are in the process of finalising a newsletter which will be sent to residents soon and a rescheduled public information event is being organised for early in 2023.”

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The county council is believed to have agreed that the A6 works will be completed before the bridge project begins, and that HGVs will be directed via the A5004 to Buxton, A6 to Bridgemont, and then A5004 back into Whaley Bridge.

Old Road in Whaley Bridge will be used as a diversion for emergency vehicles only, with police enforcing the route and making it inaccessible to the public.

In terms of bus services, the number 60 and 60A from Macclesfield to New Mills and the number 61 from Buxton to Glossop at the Horwich End side of the closure will divert via Chapel-en-le-Frith and the A6 by-pass, giving a link to connect with the main 199 service from Buxton through Stockport to Manchester Airport at Chapel.

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The council will be writing to parents directly in the coming days to confirm any alterations to school bus routes.

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A spokesperson for the authority said: “We have been working closely with Network Rail to ensure that existing, planned roadworks are carefully co-ordinated in the local area to minimise inconvenience. We are also taking steps to support school bus services during these essential repairs to the rail bridge.”

There will be no trains running past Hazel Grove station from February 17-28, with obvious implications for passengers usually using New Mills Newtown, Furness Vale, Whaley Bridge, Chapel-en-le-Frith, Dove Holes and Buxton stations. Network Rail has confirmed that trains will be replaced by rail replacement buses during this period.

All diversion routes will be detailed in advance at once the Temporary Traffic Regulation Order is processed.

Network Rail will be making a final confirmation in writing to residents, but the rearranged community information events are expected to take place on Thursday, January 5, at the Whaley Bridge Uniting Church, 10am to noon and 1-3pm, and the Mechanics Institute, 5-7pm.

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