THE proposed infilling of a bridge in a village near Winchester is being contested by a charity who want to keep access along the old railway line.

As previously reported, National Highways (formerly Highways England) propose to infill the bridge on Stoke Road for safety reasons. The work is currently on hold.

The Watercress Way is a walking and cycling route linking Alresford, Kings Worthy, South Wonston and Sutton Scotney.

The charity wants to keep the bridge open to allow it in future to extend its path along the old railway line which closed in the 1970s. It was part of the former Victorian Mid-Hants line, also known as the Watercress Line.

Jackie Porter, chairman of The Watercress Way charity, said: “The route of the old railway line is protected in the Local Plans of all the authorities against development or indeed, anything which could jeopardise the route being opened for cycling and walking in the future. We want to stop this happening.

“Foamed concrete is terrible ecologically, and would create a permanent barrier for the development of the route. With sections of the old railway line already open, this is a terrible blow and one we’re determined to fight.”

National Highways have said, should the work go ahead, that the infill would be reversible.

Chris Brunskill, Watercress Way trustee, said: “As a parent of young daughters, I am working for better non-motorised access along this route because I want both my children and others to have better access to wider off road cycling and walking in the future.”

The Watercress Way says it is keen to work with National Highways, in order keep the bridge safe.

The charity said, in a message to National Highways: “Please think again. Think nature, access and low carbon travel, not just take the short route with concrete. Let us work with you to ensure the bridges are safe, but in a way that we could still open up all of these lines for access for future generations.”

National Highways head of Historical Railways Estate programme, Hélène Rossiter, said: “The Historical Railways Estate (HRE) is an important part of our industrial heritage. Any infill plans at Stoke Bridge are part of a national pause on infilling and demolition activity across the HRE. This has been put in place to give local authorities and interest groups more time to fully consider structures as part of their local active travel plans for walking, cycling and heritage railways.

“When infilling was considered for Stoke Bridge, we were not aware of the Watercress Way plans and, in liaising with Winchester CC and SDNPA, these were never mentioned to us nor was there any evidence given that the bridge formed any element of their Local Plans.

“We would be delighted to work with the group to understand their plans and see how we can co-ordinate to support such endeavours and seek to transfer the structure for its ongoing care as part of active travel routes.”

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