Chain Bridge repairs would cost nearly £5m

The Union Suspension Bridge from Berwickshire to Northumberland
The Union Suspension Bridge from Berwickshire to Northumberland

The historically important Union Chain Bridge will cost almost £5million to repair, Scottish Borders Council has revealed.

The staggering figure, which wildly exceeds any available budget, could mean that the bridge will close to both traffic and pedestrians.

Opened in July 1820, the Union Chain Bridge, linking Horncliffe and Fishwick, is the oldest surviving iron chain suspension bridge in Europe.

Communities on both sides of the Tweed have said it would be shocking if the structure, which was temporarily closed to cars in 2008, was shut altogether, because of its international importance.

But with funding not readily available, SBC has admitted that closure is an option it is considering. A council spokesman said: “If the councils were unable to raise the required funding it is likely that a phased closure would be implemented, with the bridge initially being closed off to vehicles, and then eventually to pedestrians as well.”

At last month’s meeting of SBC’s environment and infrastructure committee, members were told that the bridge required a new chain suspension hanger system to be developed and fitted; substantial deck replacement; and upgrading of the existing parapets. An investigation is also required to establish the condition of the end anchors and tower chains.

The estimated cost of the repairs is £4.7million.

Options going forward range from maximum refurbishment - with both SBC and Northumberland County Council contributing £2.35m for repairs - to closing the bridge entirely.

Other options include undertaking some refurbishment with a risk based approach, although members heard that this approach may still be too expensive to reduce risk to an “acceptable” level; and carrying out minimum refurbishment, which would enable the bridge to remain open to pedestrians only.

The spokesman for SBC said: “We are working with Northumberland County Council to develop options to allow the refurbishment of the bridge to take place.

“It celebrates its 200th anniversary in 2020 and several organisations, including the Berwick Preservation Trust, are keen to secure its long term future.”

He added: “Of course, the closure of the bridge is something we’re seeking to avoid, hence the work we are undertaking to address this situation.”