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..
The same crack showing it running up to road level - also showing slippage and offsetting of the right hand section on 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" . 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.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:
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."
"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.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: http://www.fugro-aperio.com/services/buildingsstructures/data/PDF069TemeBridgeRVI.PDF ]:
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."
"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  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  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].
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  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.