A two-month delay in getting permission to start work on a management and maintenance plan for the Union Chain Bridge could prove costly.
The £7.4m restoration project is looking for more than £3.5m from Heritage Lottery Funding and has succeeded in accessing £360,000 for stage one - which involves investigating the extent of the damage and assessing the work that will need to be done.
The entire project needs to be completed by June 30, 2019, which was always going to be a tight timetable but formal ‘permission to start’ was only granted on May 18, this year.
Scottish Borders Council is working with Northumberland County Council and Friends of Union Chain Bridge on the restoration project and the two councils have each committed £1m, with Northumberland agreeing to underwrite any shortfall - which currently stands at £624,000. Other funders include Friends of Union Chain Bridge (£250,000), Historic Environment Scotland (£500,000) and Historic England (£250,000).
In an update to Scottish Borders Council councillors this week, project managers reported: “The delay to the ‘permission to start’ process has reduced the Stage 2 deliver programme by nearly two months, which again makes it challenging, but the team still believe that it is achievable.
“If the Heritage Lottery Fund application was unsuccessful future bids could still be submitted. However, with the continued deterioration of the bridge and the risk of construction inflation the cost of a future project would increase, requiring an increased contribution from both authorities.”
Union Chain bridge has historical significance as it was the longest suspension bridge in the world when opened in 1820, and is currently the oldest operational suspension bridge in the world still carrying vehicles.
It has become structurally unsafe for vehicular traffic and the aim is to have the bridge fully restored in time for its 200th anniversary in 2020.