The future of a historic River Wye footbridge used by more than 20,000 walkers each year is a step closer to being secured.
Riverside residents have been campaigning for the Black Bridge which connects Lower Lydbrook to Welsh Bicknor in Herefordshire to be registered after a bureaucratic blunder was discovered years ago.
Part of the 136-mile Wye Valley Walk, it saves local walkers and cyclists a six-mile detour via Huntsham or Kerne bridges.
But the crossing mid-way between Monmouth and Ross-onWye was closed for two years from 2016 to 2018 for temporary repairs after it was declared unsafe, prompting concern over its long-term future.
A £1.7m Lottery bid for more permanent repairs was rejected in 2018, bringing to light the fact that the Gloucestershire half of the 154-year-old former railway viaduct had never been registered as a public right of way on the definitive map after the footpath was established in 1981.
While the bridge has been open, many residents feared the lack of legal protection put the route at risk of closure and campaigners have been calling on the council to register the route on the definitive map.
But now a notice of public path creation and definitive map and statement modification order has been issued by Gloucestershire County Council which will go some way to addressing residents’ concerns.
Forest Council Lydbrook wardmember Cllr Sid Phelps (Green), said residents are absolutely delighted that the omission of the public right of way from the definitive map looks like it is finally going to be made good.
“While this doesn’t necessarily provide a long-term solution to the ongoing maintenance issues of the bridge, we are hopeful that the establishment of the public right of way will give some weight to keeping the path open for us and future generations.”
Gloucestershire councillor Terry Hale (Con, Drybrook and Lydbrook) who has also been campaigning to save the bridge, said he was pleased with the progress so far.
“We got it done in the end. It was one of my manifesto pledges and I’m glad it’s done. It was an essential job that needed doing,” he said.
But open spaces society activist Chas Townley says he remains sceptical about whether this will resolve the long delayed debate about the permanent repairs
“After years of demoralising delay caused by the council not progressing the DMMO application, this last-minute change of process is a surprise, but a positive change of heart.
“This could have been done this at any time since Herefordshire and Gloucestershire jointly acquired the bridge for Highway purposes in 1971.
“I remain sceptical about whether this will resolve the long delayed debate about what permanent repairs are required to restore the bridge.”
Council chiefs have explained that a series of events, including the diversion of the actual footpath, Covid, change in staff, and the processing of other higher priority applications had impacted on the application.
They said the council is committed to keeping the bridge open and aim to get the route formally recorded on the Definitive Map of Public Rights of Way this financial year.
Construction of the bridge took place between 1869 and 1873 to carry the connection between the Ross-Monmouth Railway and Severn and Wye Railway at Lydbrook junction station, for the Edison Swan Cable works.
Safety work to ensure that canoeists and walkers were safe from falling debris when passing underneath saw engineers devise a “safe, workable, short-term solution” to get the bridge re-opened in 2018.
Any representations about the pupilc path order may be sent to the asset data (Highway Records & DMMO) Team Leader, Gloucestershire County Council, Shire Hall, Westgate Street, Gloucester, GL1 2TH.
This must be done not later than March 29, 2023 and should quote reference 573/11/141(9).