Historic river crossing restoration bid proving a bridge too far

Restoration of an historic Borders river crossing appears a bridge too far as the result of a funding shortage, it has emerged.
The Kalemouth suspension bridge.The Kalemouth suspension bridge.
The Kalemouth suspension bridge.

The Kalemouth suspension bridge between Jedburgh and Kelso was closed on safety grounds in August 2020.

But during repair works significant defects within the timber elements of the structure were uncovered.

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Council officers are undertaking further work to identify the specific structural issues which need addressed before it can re-open to light vehicles.

Late last year it was estimated that repairing the Category A-Listed structure would cost Scottish Borders Council £1.1m, a figure higher than the authority’s entire £1m annual budget for bridge maintenance.

As a result the council will need to attract external funding to carry out the repairs – a process that is certain to be protracted.

Now a new briefing note from John Curry, SBC’s director of Infrastructure and Environment, reveals that the situation has worsened over the course of this year.

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He says: “The recent cost of living increases and the current high inflation rate will only have increased these figures. These costs are so high in a large part due to the extensive scaffolding access system that will be required to allow the work to be undertaken on the bridge safely. If additional works are identified following this more in depth structural assessment of the ironwork elements then costs will increase accordingly.

“On behalf of the council I apologise for the inconvenience caused by the bridge closure, and I am sorry I cannot deliver more definitive news on this occasion.

“The council is working hard to find a solution to see this bridge carry light vehicles once more, however, it is hoped that this briefing note gives some explanation as to the challenges and engineering complexities involved in this project.”

Ironically, the current stalemate contrasts with Scottish Border Council’s involvement in the restoration of another river crossing from the same era.

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The £10m restoration of the Union Chain Bridge, linking Scotland and England, is nearing completion.

That was a joint venture between SBC and Northumberland County Council, with millions of pounds provided by the National Lottery to ease the considerable costs.

The Union Chain Bridge was created by naval captain Sir Samuel Brown and completed in 1820 at the cost of £6,449.

And Captain Brown was also responsible for creating the smaller Kalemouth bridge, which opened in about 1830.