Repairs are bridge too far as SBC relinquishes Manor brig

Local councillor Catriona Bhatia at Old Manor Brig which has been handed over to Wemyss and March Estate.
Local councillor Catriona Bhatia at Old Manor Brig which has been handed over to Wemyss and March Estate.
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ONE of the Borders oldest bridges will soon no longer be owned by Scottish Borders Council.

The local authority’s handling of the dilapidating Old Manor Brig near Peebles has been much criticised in the past and members of its executive committee have now agreed to hand it back to Wemyss and March Estate, along with nearly £90,000 to refurbish the B listed structure.

However, council officials believe they have struck a good deal, with a full refurbishment of the brig costing around £600,000.

Councillors also approved a stopping up order so that the route can no longer be used as a road, although traffic has not used the brig since 2009 due to safety fears.

A path agreement will mean members of the public can still walk or cycle over the popular River Tweed crossing.

Rob Dickson, director of environment and infrastructure at Newtown, told councillors: “This was an unusual report in that we are usually adopting roads, where this is, in fact, the reverse.

“It would be prohibitively expensive to fully refurbish this road.

“To spent £600,000 in the current financial position of the council would be unmanageable, particularly given the low volume of traffic the bridge has.

“This measure provides the estate with a safe structure for the foreseeable future.

“This is a practical solution and will allow the bridge to be retained for the public and estate.”

The brig was closed to traffic in February 2009, apart from pedestrians and light vehicles used by the estate. In the same year, SBC said the brig was “a very low priority” part of its network.

Suggestions to remove the brig were opposed by Wemyss and March, who described it as a “critical crossing point” for its operations.

Of four available options, the minimum action was agreed and temporary support works were erected. The move was criticised last year by members of Peebles Community Council, who said it had achieved nothing to maintain the decrepit bridge.

Applications to the Heritage Lottery Fund and through the Scottish Rural Development Programme were unsuccessful, with Historic Scotland not deeming the brig significant enough to be made a priority.

Talks began between SBC and Wemyss and March regarding the estate taking over the brig and a report in February concluded that work was badly needed before the end of 2012.

Councillors were told leaving the brig as it is would likely mean it would be out of use within a few years, which in turn would force SBC to consider erecting a new pathway at a cost of £100,000 which would be of no use to Wemyss and March’s vehicles.

Although councillors have agreed to back the settlement, the Longniddry-based estate is yet to fully sign up to the deal. TheSouthern was unable to speak to anyone from Wemyss and March as we went to press.

Executive member for roads and infrastructure, Gordon Edgar, described the agreement as a good solution.

He added: “For a number of years there have been discussions and proposals about how to save the bridge.

“Now the responsibility will fall to the estate and they will repair the bridge to their standard for their use.

“It will also allow members of the public to use the bridge for recreational purposes.” 
Local councillor Catriona Bhatia said: “This has been an ongoing issue for some time.

“I have never heard a complaint about vehicle access but people have been very concerned that it is kept for recreational use.

“This is a very good solution and hopefully it will get the support of the people of Manor and Peebles.”

Old Manor Brig was designed by William Duke of Queensberry and built by his second son the Earl of March, in 1702.

It is estimated that the bridge sees 20,000 uses per year by walkers and cyclists.