Bridge plans cause controversy

Claims that work to make a West Runton bridge safer for pedestrians will impact an area of outstanding natural beauty have been dismissed.

The Planning Inspectorate has agreed to a land swap at Runton Common, west of Cromer, to enable Norfolk County Council to carry out highway improvements on the Station Road over the railway.

Because Norfolk County Council is to take, by compulsory purchase, registered common land for its works, it must provide land in exchange. The exchange land is a nearby wooded area.

But the land swap agreement has angered pressure-group The Open Spaces Society.

Ian Witham, the society's local representative, said: 'We are not convinced that the highway works, consisting of bridge strengthening and footway improvements, are necessary.

'We are concerned that they will mar the appearance of the common from the road. They will have an urbanising effect in the Norfolk Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.'

Suggestions to improve the bridge over the Bittern Line railway track in Station Road, by carrying out strengthening work and creating a footpath, were first put forward in 2005.

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As part of the plans, traffic was to be reduced to one lane over the bridge with traffic lights controlling cars on each side to allow pedestrians to walk safely across. Also a ramp for walkers down to the station platform was to be improved.

But complicated legal arguments surrounding compulsory purchase orders prevented the plans proceeding.

Fresh purchase orders were submitted in February this year by Norfolk County Council, which, now they have been granted, will allow them to widen embankments onto ground that is either common land owned by Network Rail or of unknown ownership.

The changes to the Station Road bridge are part of a long standing campaign by villagers to make the crossing safer for walkers

John Simpson, chairman of East and West Runton Parish Council said: 'There is not going to be any loss of common land, and in fact we are pleased work is going to start.'

Ann Steward, cabinet member for sustainable development at Norfolk County Council, said: 'We are pleased the Planning Inspectorate agrees with us that there will be no detrimental affect to Runton Common as a result of our footway improvements works.

'This is something the community has been requesting for a number of years. We believe any impact on the common is minimal.

'We would like to reassure residents that we protect and value areas of green open space and, as such, we will be buying a plot of nearby common land for community use.'

The main works are scheduled to start on November 8 2010, After Christmas the road will be closed for six weeks, but there will be pedestrian access.

Work is expected to be completed by March 2011 and traffic signals will then control as there will be single line traffic over the bridge.