In February this year, the National Trust decided to proceed with a project to replace the bridge at Stiffkey.
We had been maintaining the former bridge and had previously repaired and extended it. However, due to coastal erosion and further widening of the channel, as well as the age of the bridge, it was removed on safety grounds in 2022, following specialist advice from an external structural engineer.
As a charity, when faced with any decision to replace infrastructure, we always ask whether replacement is the right option.
We therefore paused our work in 2022 to review the situation. We needed to weigh up the cost, the impact on wildlife in a protected area, sustainability in the face of sea level rise, as well as the provision of access.
On this occasion, due to the tidal environment, we felt we should proceed with replacing the bridge on health and safety grounds, with the caveat that we still need to secure planning permission.
Replacing the bridge
The practical construction of a bridge is relatively straightforward.
What makes this project complex is the multiple ownership, multiple designations, multiple permissions and the construction regulations we need to follow to ensure what we build is legally compliant, robust, safe and suitable for this inter-tidal coastal location.
In terms of ownership, the National Trust ownership starts above the mean high-water mark. This means the bridge will also span an area in ownership by the Crown Estate and Natural England, who lease land from the Crown Estate.
Due to the sensitive location of the site, we will need to obtain planning permission and consent from the Marine Management Organisation before a bridge can be built.
In one of the biggest areas of saltmarsh
The National Trust plays an important role in providing access to some of the most special natural places in the UK, including here at Stiffkey, one of the biggest areas of saltmarsh in Europe.
We also have a responsibility to the wildlife that lives on the marsh, which can be affected by footfall and disturbance. As in many places, we have to balance access for people with conservation. On this occasion, the health and safety risk is such that we have decided to replace the bridge.
We hope people will understand why it was important for us to carry out a full review and the decision we've made.
Timescale and next steps
In June 2023, the National Trust appointed Conisbee as their lead consultant, who have experience in designing bridges in a similar environment and also bring further support from a Quantity Surveyor.
From conversations with multiple organisations over the summer, we now have a clearer timescale for the project.
The last of the surveys that will help inform the design will be completed in October and we are expecting initial designs to review before Christmas.
We will then enter a detailed design and pre-app phase, engaging with the organisations we need to seek formal permission from, to take onboard any feedback they have with regards to our design options before we submit our final planning application in spring 2024.
It will then take up to 12 weeks for planning and four months for Marine Management Organisation permission to be reviewed and outcomes shared. If we’re successful we will then tender for materials and construction.
Subject to permissions, ongoing conversations regarding a footpath application and to ensure birds have finished breeding in the area, the earliest and most realistic build date we’re working to is September, with the aim that the replacement bridge is in place and completed by autumn 2024.
We’re continuing to do all that we can, as quickly as we can to find a permanent solution. Signage reminding people of tide times and that the bridge has been removed will remain in place until then.
Location of the bridge
The location of the bridge that's been removed is indicated on the map below (ringed in red). It was located a short distance from the National Trust's car park in Stiffkey.
If you would like to contact us about our plans to replace Stiffkey Bridge, please email StiffkeyBridgeProject@nationaltrust.org.uk.