VILLAGERS facing a 90-mile round trip to the nearest shop eight miles up the road are taking matters into their own hands.
Tweedsmuir residents are to bid for money to build another bridge or roads to divert timber traffic from their village.
For the crumbling Carlowse bridge, linking the Peeblesshire village to the main A701 and used daily by logging trucks, urgently needs to close for repair work which could take months and endanger lives, claim villagers.
But once work goes ahead, Scottish Borders Council proposes to send residents on a 46-mile diversion via St Mary’s Loch to get to the A701.
Campaigner Rod Sibbald said: “The closure of the bridge would leave us completely cut off and could put lives at risk. That’s how serious it is.”
On Monday action group, Tweedsmuir Bridge Advisory Group (TBAG) agreed to apply to the Scottish Government’s Timber Transport Fund for money to build alternative routes for the timber trucks from surrounding plantations.
TBAG also decided to ask newly elected MSP Christine Grahame and councillors to help lobby SBC to put a weight limit on the village’s listed stone bridge. And the campaigners plan to push the council to provide a “sensible alternative” to the proposed 46-mile diversion.
However, the council has already told TBAG there is “no structural requirement” for a weight restriction.
And in a letter to the group it said: “Given the present scale of the council’s capital and revenue budgets available for bridge management, a new replacement bridge or a temporary bailey bridge will most probably be unaffordable.”
Villagers on Monday also agreed to push the council to carry out a consultation on the route as part of a new forestry plan due in next year for surrounding plantations.
For they put the blame of the 18th-century bridge’s accelerated decline on the daily convoys of logging trucks going over it.
TBAG campaigner Paul Greaves said more than 200,000 tonnes of timber are scheduled to move through the village over the next 10 years, adding: “A 220-year-old bridge is not the answer and if this traffic is allowed to continue, it will mean further damage and therefore further repair bills for the council.”
SBC had told villagers there is no formal timescale for bridge work and that there are no detailed costings.
But a TBAG-initiated Freedom of Information request revealed on Monday that SBC thinks most of the work should be done in the next two years and a report in February put the cost at an estimated £176,000.
An internal email between SBC and Forestry Commission staff talks of major repairs needed and the impact of the timber traffic.
It says: “The bridge is in need of repair works and would have been even if timber transport were not using the bridge. However, the deterioration of the structure is likely to increase significantly due to increased usage by timber traffic. Sometime in the near future we are going to have to bite the bullet and repair the bridge – obviously the repair works will bring its own challenges, but I think the biggest hurdle will be the long-term road closure.”
Villagers are concerned for the safety of their 50-strong community as shutting the bridge will stop emergency services gaining access easily and they say the diversion route is not practicable.
Mr Sibbald said: “At the best of times an ambulance can take an hour to get to Tweedsmuir. If people were to take ill or get injured when the bridge is closed I dread to think what would happen. The (diversion) road is a single track with few passing places and is highly dangerous. It is certainly not passable in winter months.”
Mr Greaves said: “We have an email from the bridge engineer admitting timber traffic is causing the problem and we now know repairs to the bridge, after 10 years of timber traffic use, will cost £176,000, which is an extraordinary amount. All we want is for the council to act to prevent a repeat of this cost.”
An SBC spokesperson said: “No formal timescale has been set for major works, although these are not imminent and will be undertaken in future years. Any major works are likely to involve a road closure, however, the council will consider what measures can be put into effect to mitigate the impact of any such closure on the community.
“Options will only be considered in detail nearer the time of such works and consultation with the local community will be undertaken then.”