The ownership of the Marsh Lock horsebridge is being challenged by the Environment Agency (EA) as it is not within the EA land title and it is being investigated with Oxfordshire CC and Wokingham BC according to the OCC Thames Path Manager.
The EA closed the bridge in May 2022 as it was deemed unsafe. The Schwarzenbach family offered a diversion across their land initially until April 2023 but have kindly extended this to give continued access for walkers in both directions.
Resident Simon Loring has asked the EA under the Freedom of Information (FOI) on what surveys been carried out, the cost of these, how many site visits have been made, has a tender for the work been issued and what is the current status and plan for the work. Simon said, “In 1991 the EA rebuilt a large part of the horsebridge structure. I would assume they considered they were the owner at that time. They now seem to be trying to avoid the ownership which will cause more delay. If the EA with 11,000 staff and funded from the taxpayers were honest open and proactive with the public and with all their project managers and experience would state the programme and expected timeframe for the work to enable the users of the Thames Path and the landowners to plan around the closure.”
The EA responded to Simon’s FOI, “The replacement of Marsh Head Horsebridge is currently at the Initial Assessment phase and we are liaising with Oxfordshire County Council and Wokingham Borough Council regarding necessary legal aspects of this closure and how we can collectively plan for a future refurbishment /replacement.”
The cost to date is £46,000 for a combination of specialist surveys (above and below the water level). EA said, “The funding for these has been taken from EA’s Defra Grant in Aid allocation. Any future investment in the bridge is dependent on our discussions with Oxfordshire County Council /Wokingham Borough Council and the necessary allocation of Defra Grant in Aid funding.”
“The project team had originally hoped the bridge could be reinforced to remove some of the safety concerns, however, on closer inspection we have found this is now not possible. We are grateful to the landowner who has continued to enable a footpath diversion over his land.”
“The survey findings established that a major refurbishment of the bridge is needed to take place before it can be re-opened.”
The delivery cost of this project will be funded through government grant in aid, which will assessed against competing priorities and affordability. EA said, “Unfortunately, due to the scale of the work required, access across this bridge will not be possible and means it is likely to remain closed throughout 2023.”
“Our ongoing work with local authority stakeholders, combined with our project management and financial applications to Defra, will determine the timeframe for any work to be completed.”
“Three EA staff have visited on three occasions to meet with the landowner’s agent. Nine EA staff have visited the location on six occasions to install, repair and replace fencing, erect signage, and diversion signs.”
No tenders have been issued at present. EA said, “We have a designer and contractor in place through a previous competitively tendered framework arrangement.” Simon commented, “They are also likely impacted by the preferred contractor system as it’s likely that the large contractors on the list have no interest in a small job and maybe no experience of timber structures on a river.
Hannah Gutteridge, Thames Path Manager, said “The Thames Path Partnership have made these bridges a priority and we are looking at ways to accelerate the process.”