A NATIONAL Park Authority is contesting the proposed infilling of a bridge over a disused railway line.

As previously reported, the bridge, on Stoke Road near Itchen Abbas, had been planned for infilling by Highways England only for the work to be put on hold.

The bridge, which is Crown Property and maintained by Highways England, is within the boundaries of the South Downs National Park.

The disagreement is over the planning permission required to carry out the work.

The SDNPA has insisted that a planning application is required.

Before the works were put on hold, Trevor Beattie, South Downs National Park Authority chief executive, said in a tweet: “The National Park does not support the infilling and has not given consent, indeed we have argued without success that permission is needed, but [Highways England] has used their PD rights. We will resist this vandalism.”

The HRE Group, an alliance of engineers, sustainable transport advocates and greenway developers, has said that infilling schemes are being driven through against wider public interest.

Matt Skidmore, a member of the group, said: “This is typical of the behaviour we’ve seen from the company over the past few months.

“Infilling schemes are being driven through against the wider public interest, without local stakeholders having a voice. There is no scrutiny because normal democratic processes are being circumvented through the continued abuse of Permitted Development powers.

“By putting Stoke Road bridge beyond use, Highways England is obstructing the development of a 27-mile circular path connecting the communities of Alresford, Kings Worthy, South Wonston and Sutton Scotney. This is a disgraceful and unwarranted act by a disreputable organisation that couldn’t care less about building a better future.”

If the infilling work were to go ahead, it would block part of the proposed walking and cycling route, the Watercress Way.

David Cook, Chairman of Itchen Stoke and Ovington Parish Council, said: “The Watercress Way has long held aspirations to develop the old railway line from the eastern border of Itchen Abbas through to Alresford for walkers and cyclists.

“Highways England filling in under the bridge would seem to make realising that ambition rather more difficult.”

“From a Parish Council point of view, there are any number of established bridle paths where walkers can currently get to Alresford.

Trevor Beattie, chief executive of the SDNPA, said: “We are pleased that the Government has halted plans to fill in disused railway bridges, including this particular bridge at Stoke Road.

“The authority questioned the use of emergency powers and we’re pleased that our concerns have been taken into consideration.

“We now await the details of a review by the Department for Transport and are working with National Highways to consider the plans for the maintenance of the bridge in line with its potential future use as an active travel corridor.”

When asked about the plans, a spokesperson from Highways England said: “We are talking to Winchester City Council and have spoken with South Down National Park recently but are not in a position to add to what we said before.”