Councillors claim the “real motive” for repairing Bath’s historic Cleveland Bridge is so massive lorries can use it again.
Bath and North East Somerset Council, through consultants WSP, has applied for listed building consent to repair, refurbish and strengthen the structure.
But opponents said the application was fraught with errors and omissions and goes way beyond what is needed to preserve the grade II*-listed bridge.
They called for the temporary 18-tonne limit to be made permanent.
Speaking at the planning committee meeting on 26th August, Walcot ward member Tom Davies said: “Have the proposed works been designed to ensure the long-term conservation of the bridge, or have they been over-specified to enable the bridge to recommence the carrying of the many hundreds of 18-plus-tonne lorries which used to pass over it daily?
“Nowhere in the documents presented does this question appear to have been either asked or answered.”
He called for the weight limit to be extended but committee members were told that highways matters were outside the scope of the listed building application.
Cllr Manda Rigby, who sits on the planning committee but spoke as a ward member and did not vote, said: “I’m no structural engineer but to me it seems self-evident that the life of the bridge is dependent on what usage is put to.
“You need a justification for any works done to it – where is the document that says the bridge needs work at all?”
Cleveland Bridge was built in 1827. It underwent a major reconstruction in 1928 and was repaired and strengthened again in 1992. A series of defects were identified in 2014 and the weight limit was imposed in February of this year.
Planning officers said the most appropriate solution now is a “comprehensive repair and strengthening exercise”.
The proposed works include a new concrete coating, waterproofing, cleaning and alterations to the pavement.
Addressing the committee, Cllr Rigby said: “Were you to think that despite all the errors and omissions you can today make a decision I could see no way you could approve the application as it currently stands.
“Would you be happy with pouring a lot of concrete into the Royal Crescent to allow HGVs to use it?
“If the bridge was so compromised as to be in serious danger of collapse or partial collapse then surely it would be currently closed to all traffic. In fact it just has a temporary weight restriction on it.”
The bridge carries the A36 and Dr Kumar, her fellow Bathwick ward member, said the “real motive” for the repairs was to allow hundreds of lorries to resume using it each day.
He added: “Do we want to construct it again just for these HGVs, or do we want to preserve this asset properly for posterity? The current plants defy the obligation to protect and conserve this invaluable asset.”
Representing several residents’ associations, Ceris Humphreys said there was no public interest in the bridge reopening to lorries.
Planning committee member Cllr Sue Craig said she felt “quite uncomfortable” about whether the committee had all the information it needed, while Cllr Duncan Hounsell sought clarification about whether the damage to the bridge was caused by water or its use by heavy lorries.
Committee chair Matt McCabe said the council could not “wrap every heritage asset in cotton wool and not allow anybody to touch it or walk on it because all those things cause harm.”
He said: “We need to know how we preserve a bridge whose fundamental purpose is traffic crossing from one side of the river.”
Members will visit the site before they make a decision.
Stephen Sumner, Local Democracy Reporter