Saturday, 2 October 2010

Tenbury's Teme Bridge in Crisis?

There's been much talk about the state of the Teme Bridge of recent. There's facts and figures available online if you know where to search for them and there's reports of WCC Councillors stating that there's nothing wrong with the Teme Bridge too at local council meets. Tesco in their revised plans want to use it as their sole access to their potential store for their 44 tonne HGV fleet [plus misc other HGV suppliers] - potentially putting the existing structure under greater threat. Being inquisitive, I decided to go to the bridge, have a look and see for myself the state it is in [not that I'm any expert, but I know a big fracture when I see one!].

So here's what I found..

Basic structural repairs to concrete sections.

A sizeable fracture all the way through one of the old concrete sheaths of the bridge.

The same crack showing it running up to road level - also showing slippage and offsetting of the right hand section on concrete sheathing.

Another substantial fracture running diagonally through the old concrete sheathing.

So what are the facts available? Well there's a document that WCC have taken offline but good 'ol Google had already made an HTML copy of called " Worcestershire's Bid for Capital Maintenance Funding" [2006]. In it in section 4 it discusses the background of the bridge and the findings of a principal inspection or [PI] in 2005 as follows:


"Teme Bridge carries the A4112 over the River Teme in Tenbury Wells, linking the town itself to the A456, which provides the strategic route to Worcester and Kidderminster to the East, and Ludlow and Leominster via the A49 to the West. The alternatives routes in Tenbury from this directions involve narrow and hilly roads that are particularly unsuitable for the Heavy Goods Vehicles bringing goods to the town centre businesses.

The original bridge dates back to the Fourteenth Century, although the southern
three arches were re-built in the Eighteenth Century. In 1815 the northern three spans were widened to a design by Thomas Telford, and further widening was undertaken in 1868. In 1908 reinforced concrete extensions were constructed on both elevations of the bridge to a design by L.G. Mouchel and Partners."
So [and I'm just summarising the above], it's a very old bridge which benefitted from the brilliance of Thomas Telford on rebuild and has since had concrete extensions to help widen it. Also quoted in the same document is the following assessment in 2005 of it's structural integrity:

Bridge damage:

"A Principal Inspection (PI) in October 2005 identified further problems with the bridge, notably erosion of masonry, cracking and displacements of stonework, water penetration of the reinforced concrete extensions, and spalling of the concrete.

Additionally, the south-east wingwall is showing signs of movement, probably due to
settlement of the fill behind the abutment. Given the above it is likely that major repairs will be required to Teme Bridge, and these will form a high priority due to the need to maintain a reasonable level of access to Tenbury itself. Further site investigations are underway to establish the interface between the original arch structure and the concrete extension and to allow a full assessment of the bridge to be completed."
So, diligently further professional inspections did indeed take place by a specialist structural engineering company called Fugro Aperio. These people used the latest advanced tech to look at the bridge in various ways and concluded in their report "Fugro Aperio's 'Inner Vision' Averts Traffic Chaos" [downloadable at: ]:
"The level of details provided by Fugro Aperio's surveys has helped in designing the most appropriate, most cost-effective and least disruptive scheme of repair works for the Tenbury Wells bridge, which is to undergo a £1 million scheme [2006] of masonry repairs and concrete strengthening at a future date."
To me, the evidence above doesn't sound good news.. It sounds like there are serious structural issues with the Teme Bridge which [in the Fugro Aperio 2006 report] were going to cost a goodly amount of money to put right. So what happened after that point? Well some basic structural enhancement has taken place in the concrete sections since 2006 [see pic top] but this doesn't look [or sound] like the quoted [2006] million pounds worth of repairs. Take into consideration too that the bridge had to be closed on at least 2 occasions around 2007 when we had serious flooding of the river area - causing extra stresses on the old structure on top of the existing cracks and settling. Add to that the slow but sure extra traffic build up over the years and numerous lost 44 tonne arctic lorries relying on their satnavs picking their way through Tenbury and over the bridge out to a wider road.. It would be reasonable to conclude that the stresses and strains on the old bridge in recent years have increased dramatically.

Tenbury - "Unsuitable for HGV's"

Now we already know that the route through Tenbury has a traffic order on it that renders it "Unsuitable for HGV's" - there's the blue signs on the Burford side of the bridge to prove it. This is however only 'advisory' and not mandatory - i.e. it's not obligatory to HGV drivers to take it into account. But.. The Teme bridge -is- a Scheduled Ancient Monument [SAM] too. To put this into some kind of context, the only other [SAM] in the Tenbury immediate area is the ancient Norman Motte or 'Tump' in the field on the Burford side of the bridge. Even the giant, world renowned IK Brunel-designed Clifton Suspension bridge near Bristol isn't a SAM. This probably helps explain how important this fragile old bridge is in the great scheme of things.

Teme Bridge - Scheduled Ancient Monument

SAM's enjoy the greatest protection that a structure can have in the UK - development and potential uses of them are closely monitored by the Inspector of Ancient Monuments - a UK statutory body. Any substantial change of use or scaling-up of use of them must be ran by the inspector and commented on. Well guess what? I spoke with the inspector for the Worcester region - in which the Teme Bridge is covered. He shall remain nameless but did stress that he had raised substantial concerns about the usage of the bridge when Tesco applied the first time round. When I explained that Tesco had been given until the end of September 2010 to put in a revised bid he stated that 'there's 2 days until the end of the month but We haven't been re-consulted by Tesco'. So maybe Tesco did consult in the remaining 2x days of Sept 2010 but [if they did] then they would have received the same comment I heard which was "We're not sure if the bridge can take the hit" [of the additional Tesco HGV traffic to the store]. He recommended then that the bridge would need a study of some kind to see if it was capable of catering for this.

Worcester County Council Denial

Worcester County Council's perspective on the bridge seems to have been made clear in Feb 2010 when Ken Pollock a Worcs County Councillor was on record at a Tenbury Town Council meet* as saying: [that there is] "no significant damage to the bridge" and that it needs "just remedial repairs" which will be carried out "in 2011/12". Now to me, there is a very big difference between £1 million pounds worth of work in 2006 and "no significant damage" in early 2010.
Where did all the damage go then?
[* ref from blog comment the "Unsuitable for HGV's" previous blog entry from an indivudual who attended and noted during that session].

In summary
So to summarise and bring together.. The Teme Bridge is a Scheduled Ancient Monument - protected to the max in respect if it's usage and maintenance. It's also a bridge that has had numerous reports levelled at it by professional bodies who have estimated [2006] that £1 million pounds would need to be spent to secure and maintain it. Small amounts of remedial work have been done since to help secure it but certainly not the £1 million pounds worth quoted in 2006. UK statuary bodies are questioning the logic of scaling up the amount of HGV traffic on the old bridge and recommending feasibility studies. Worcester County Council representatives are telling the people of Tenbury that the bridge is in actual fact 'fine' and needs little or no work.. The route through Tenbury is signed "Unsuitable for HGV's"…

Add Tesco's HGV's to the mix?
Square that if you can with Tesco wanting to bring their fleet of 44 tonne articulated lorries over the decaying, fragile old protected bridge. Ignore for now the additional suppliers such as Wiseman Dairies etc who will also want to send articulated lorries to the store [not to mention the extra customer traffic squeezing across to the store too].. This is a massive additional hit on an old bridge that is already well overdue major maintenance work. Worcester County Council clearly have a penny-pinching policy that means that the monies that were recommended to be spent on the bridge in 2006 have only been dealt with in a cursory way to date - leaving substantial structural damage existing. Clearly there's much more substantial work to be done still - some has been suggested in WCC docs to commence 2012,. Until that point though we're left with a very fragile [and clearly structurally-compromised] Schedule Ancient Monument that was never designed to carry fleets of additional HGV lorries.

Q. So what at the end of the day is important in this scenario? Is it preservation of our rare and unique old bridge that helps lend so much character to the town for future generations? Or is it to allow Tesco the big multinational corporate to make maximum profit out of the land adjacent to it? If the latter scenario is allowed [given their desire to use the bridge as sole access] it would both make a mockery of both the bridge's
nationally important heritage status and the existing Traffic Regulation Order rendering the route "Unsuitable for HGV's" in one shot.


  1. Those cracks look horrifying ,like me and most people we only walk over the bridge and never venture down to the river .Peoples safety needs to be considered here and quickly .

  2. Excellent bit of bringing together of all the data, but I think given the maths involved; the one or two additional HGV's a day to Tesco vs the reduction in the number/weight of HGVs supplying the other supermarkets and the possible increase in traffic crossing the bridge to visit the site vs the likely reduction in vehicles crossing the bridge to visit Ludlow & Kidderminster, the state of the bridge might not be a significant issue in the planning mechanism but it should once again be raised by the Town Council with the County Council to try to get to the bottom of what is the real truth about it's structural integrity.

  3. But part of your reasoning above [WR15] takes as a given that some highstreet stores won't be able to compete and then close if Tesco gets underway [or suffer such competition that they no longer require their existing level of deliveries].

    You're effectively willing Tenbury shops to close by taking this stance.

  4. I did that on purpose.

    If Tesco is going to devestate trade which is the position maintained by many of the anti development protesters, then the amount of goods they require will reduce, if Tescos has little impact then there will be a net increase.
    What you can't do (In my opinion) is claim both stances at once.

  5. Wr15 you don't seem to care about Tenbury. Your willing to let tesco come and ruin oir high street and our much loved SAM Teme Bridge.

  6. The fragility of trade in Tenbury, the nature of how such superstores [on balance] take more out of a town financially than they bring in, the Govt reports stating average loss of highstreet trade allied to Tenbury's potential scenario etc - they're all themes focused on keenly in your own past blog entries..

    Something has clearly changed your perspectives so that you seemingly no longer have all those earlier concerns you so keenly previously espoused.

  7. It would be interesting to know wr15 which shops you think would survive from the arrival of a Tesco

  8. I am not yet convinced by the counter argument, so at the moment I agree with those who think on balance the coming of a major retailer will be good for the town not bad.

    Most (not all) of the retailers that I have discussed this with favour the development. One told me this week that their takings over the last few months are only 20% of that of previous years, so I guess many shops might already be on the cusp of closure.

    I do not believe any shop will close as a direct result of the development. Shops will always open and close, as times, tastes and requirements change.

    If the store is built, some will site it as the reason for their closure. If the store isn't built others will blame their closure on the lack of development.

    I may still object to the development once I have seen the plans that have been submitted.

  9. Are those fractures the outer facade and brick work which serves only to make it look nice or do they extend to the structural fabric of the bridge?

    If the latter I would be concerend over current HGV traffic and think a 7.5t limit would be placed on it, if the former then a few more wagons a day wouldn't hurt, sure it'd look like crap but I doubt it would fall into the river any time soon.

  10. Some of the pictures show the concrete sheathing on the southern end of the bridge. This isn't a cosmetic thing though - it's been added [I think in the 1950's] to help widen and strengthen the bridge.

    There's a couple of substantial cracks in this structure - one of them [see pics 2 and 3 up top] runs all the way through this concrete sheathing from the road downwards and has 'slipped' or settled on one side of the crack. As such part of the bridge is actually about an inch higher than the other.

    If limits were discussed in relation to the bridge then it would substantially affect existing trade and deliveries.. I would have imagined that WCC need to re assess the bridge asap and see if their planned substantial work in 2011/2012 [if they still have the budgets] needs to be brought forward. Especially so in the light of Tesco's potential plans to bring 20 or so additional big HGVs over it per week..