Cleveland Bridge, Bathwick, Bath
Cleveland Bridge is a Grade II* late Georgian bridge within the Bath conservation area and WHS. It remains a busy vehicular route, carrying the A36 across the River Avon, and is an important architectural feature within Bath’s riverscape. The bridge was reconstructed in 1928, including the addition of concrete trusses to reinforce the original cast iron arches, with repairs and strengthening works carried out in 1992. It was during this period that the extant cast iron kerbs were installed to protect the footways. It features four former tollhouses, now residential dwellings, at its corners that are included within its Grade II* listing and are contemporary to the bridge’s construction; these are not included within the proposed works of this application, but should be considered with regards as to how works may impact their setting.
The Trust previously commented in response to withdrawn application 19/05077/LBA. We reiterate our concern as to the delay in an application for structural repairs when faults with the bridge’s integrity were first noted in 2014.
We are generally supportive of the proposed repair works to historic masonry and ironwork, in consultation with the appropriate officer. We maintain that further details, such as the proposed painted finish of metalwork, stone cleaning methods, masonry samples for replacement, and the proposed mortar and shelter coating would need to be conditioned as part of the application to ensure an appropriate overall finish to a Grade II* heritage asset.
We note that the extent of the proposed works are, in large, remedial, and deemed a necessary response to the appearance of structural faults to ensure the continued structural stability of the bridge, within the context of its ongoing use. There would be some minor visual change due to the proposed thickening of the concrete trusses by 50mm as part of repairs, and the insertion of fibre reinforced polymer plates which may have some limited visibility in the gaps of the iron trusses. The existing concrete trusses already provide a distinct visual contrast with the original ironwork; therefore, we feel that the slight thickening of the early 20th trusses would constitute less than substantial harm to the architectural and historic interest of a listed building, and would be outweighed by the need for structural repairs to a significant load-bearing aspect of the bridge’s structure (Dodds et al, 1995). Nonetheless we are surprised that there appears to be a lack of sufficient consideration of potential visual impact within the Heritage Statement.
However, we retain concerns regarding reasons for certain changes, in particular the movement of the cast iron kerbs, as detailed in the Departure from Standards submission document uploaded to the planning portal in September 2020. The proposed reduction of the carriageway by 200mm by the relocation of the existing cast iron kerbs, whilst suggested to be for the protection of the toll house pillars and improved drainage in the Heritage Statement, would instead be to “reduce[s] the eccentricity of the assessment live loading” to allow for an increase in Assessment Live Load from the current 18 tonnes restriction to the original 40 tonnes (as of 2017). Despite the officer’s claim that any weight restrictions or traffic routing are “not appropriate for consideration under this application”, we would assert that this LBA proposes works in order to reinstate the 40 ton capacity of Cleveland Bridge from its current 18 ton limit, without due consideration of the impact this intensive vehicular use would have on the long-term conservation and preservation of a listed building. As highlighted by Dodds et al. in 1995, the historic abutment walls remain load-bearing due to their support of the concrete trusses, and continued use by heavier vehicles such as HGVs would continue to place these more historically and architecturally significant areas of the bridge under undue stress.
Paragraph 192 of the NPPF states that “in determining applications, local planning authorities should take account of: a) the desirability of sustaining and enhancing the significance of heritage assets and putting them to viable uses consistent with their conservation.”
The material changes proposed would facilitate the continued use of Cleveland Bridge. However, we do not feel that adequate justification has been provided to assert that the bridge’s proposed use would be consistent with its material and aesthetic conservation, when an increase in weight capacity would actually exacerbate material deterioration. It has not been explained as to why a permanent weight limit would be unfeasible.
We therefore feel that consideration of the proposed vehicular use of the bridge is relevant, and should be considered in relation to the proposed material works. We would strongly recommend that the long-term impact on the bridge’s structural and material integrity, appearance, character, and contextual setting, and the wider setting of the conservation area and WHS, is considered in relation to the proposed facilitation of increased HGV capacity.
We maintain that in accordance with paragraph 193 of the NPPF, great weight should be given to the conservation of heritage assets regardless of the level of potential harm. Cleveland Bridge constitutes an “irreplaceable resource (NPPF, paragraph 184)” that positively contributes to the wider setting of the city as a conservation area and WHS. Therefore, we would emphasise the need to consider this application within the context of the bridge’s proposed intensified use and the consequent potential for longer term, irreversible damage to the bridge’s historic components.