Should Scottish Borders Council be contributing £1million towards the restoration of a historic, but structurally deficient, bridge linking Scotland and England over the River Tweed?
Scottish Borders Council’s executive thought so on August 15, when it agreed to add an extra £450,000 to the £550,000 which the council has already allocated to the Union Chain Bridge between Fishwick in Berwickshire and Horncliffe in Northumberland.
And this week, the council’s watchdog scrutiny committee, after a hearing, endorsed that enhanced spending commitment.
Built in 1820, the Union is the oldest single-span suspension bridge in the world which still carries traffic. The nearest alternative border crossing for vehicles is on the A1 in Berwick, four miles downstream.
A report to the executive confirmed that estimated total costs of repairing and restoring the threatened structure had recently gone up to £7.8m and that Northumberland Council had already agreed to make a £1m spending commitment ahead of a stage one bid for Heritage Lottery funding for the bulk of the costs – around £5m.
Monday’s scrutiny hearing was ordered after opposition councillor David Paterson, who represents Hawick and Hermitage ward, “called in” the executive decision to take the additional £450,000 from the council’s roads and bridges budget.
After taking evidence from SBC officers involved in the restoration project, scrutiny endorsed the extra spending “subject to other sources of funding being available”.
Scrutiny committee chairman Tweeddale east councillor Stuart Bell told The Southern: “We have asked officers to report back to the executive in April on the outcome of the Heritage Lottery Fund application. If the bid fails, we need to consider fully-costed alternatives, recognising the historical and cultural focus of the bridge and its use as a road asset.
“We are also recommending closer collaboration between SBC and Northumberland County Council on any future decisions regarding the bridge.”