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Grant Shapps Calls a Halt to Railway Heritage Vandalism

Victorian railway bridges that were due to be filled in with concrete in an act previously decried as “cultural vandalism” will be repurposed as part of a scheme to encourage walking and cycling, the UK transport secretary has announced.

The government is halting the demolition of historic train lines in the hope that they can be remodelled as routes which encourage greener means of travel. Grant Shapps unveiled the summer of cycling and walking strategy on Friday, which proposed to improve related infrastructure around the UK – supported by a £338m budget. It comes after a Highways England decision to pour concrete in a railway arch provoked anger from local residents, with the government-owned firm being told it may have to reverse the move.

Eden district council told Highways England (HE) that it needed to apply for retrospective planning permission for a scheme that involved pouring an estimated 1,000 tonnes of concrete and aggregate under the bridge at Great Musgrave, Cumbria.

The concrete infill at Cumbria was to be the start of nationwide programme

to fill more than 100 historic structures. (HRE Group)

Engineers and restoration experts were angered at the refilling of the 159-year-old bridge, saying it could have been saved with £5,000 of repairs.

Lord Faulkner, the Labour peer, said the operation was “cultural vandalism”, and campaigners warned about other sites at risk.

However, this announcement means all infilling and demolition plans – except for those at sites posing a risk to public safety – will be paused as the areas are considered for development as cycle routes. The conversion of such sites has already taken place along a 13-mile stretch of disused railway line near Bristol, which has become popular with cyclists and tourists.

The strategy document says the government plans to “establish a formalised framework and engagement process for these structures, to understand in each case whether there is a realistic prospect of it being used for active travel or other transport purposes in future”.

Officials will then “ensure that the views of local stakeholders, including active travel groups and the local authority, are fully taken into account”.

Shapps said: “Millions of us have found over the past year how cycling and walking are great ways to stay fit, ease congestion on the roads and do your bit for the environment. As we build back greener from the pandemic, we’re determined to keep that trend going by making active travel easier and safer for everyone. This £338m package marks the start of what promises to be a great summer of cycling and walking, enabling more people to make those sustainable travel choices that make our air cleaner and cities greener.”

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