A HISTORIC bridge, built to strengthen relations between Scotland and England, could be torn down due to lack of money for repairs.
The 19th century Union Chain Bridge ties the two nations 129 metres over the River Tweed and has welcomed visitors into either Scotland or England since 1820.
But after years of neglect, Scottish Borders Council is considering closing Europe’s oldest surviving iron chain suspension bridge due to its mammoth £4.7million repair bill.
The cost of fixing the A-listed structure would be paid equally by the local Scottish council and its neighbouring English council in Northumberland.
Communities from both areas say it would be “shocking” to see the bridge torn down.
The bridge, which connects Fishwick to Horncliffe, on the English Bank, was temporary closed to cars in 2008 due to health and safety concerns.
It was designed by Captain Samuel Brown and its features are tribute to the strength of the union, including intertwined roses and thistles symbols and a slogan that reads ‘United Strength is Stronger.”
Heather Robson, who runs the Chain Bridge Honey Farm, a beekeeping firm and visitor attraction on the English side of the Tweed, said the bridge has suffered years of neglect.
She said: “The bridge’s heritage status has just gone down and down, which shocks me because it’s a forerunner to the Clifton and Menai suspension bridges. It was revolutionary in its design and construction, and the idea that it might be closed is shocking.”
She said the two local authorities do little to promote it.
“One of my neighbours jokes that he doesn’t want the Latin inscription to be known in case nationalists come and stage a protest. But on one end of the bridge, someone has scrawled ‘Free Scotland’.
“It’s important nationally and internationally, and I’m surprised both councils in Scotland and England don’t do more to promote it.”
Robson said the closure of the bridge would be both a loss for heritage observers and a major inconvenience for residents.
She added: “The majority of our employees live on the Scottish side, and when the bridge was closed temporarily six years ago, they had to go on a 20-mile round trip, with a massive fuel bill at the end of it.”
Gordon Miller, an architect and former sapper in the Royal Engineers from Paxton, recalls carrying out a survey of the bridge in the 1970s.
He said it was a “tragedy” to witness its decline.
He said: “It’s the first successful road bridge built in the world, and it’s still there and that makes it unique.
“It used to be part of the Tweed Bridges Trust, but when that was wound up, it went to the councils. The tragedy is that there has been a total collapse of any care or maintenance, and it is deteriorating very fast. That annoys me and lots of others.”
The bridge, which is also Grade 1 listed by English Heritage, requires a new chain suspension hanger system, substantial replacement of its deck, upgraded parapets, and repainting.
An investigation is also required to establish the condition of its end anchors and tower chains.
Scottish Borders Council acknowledges the scale of repairs needed is a “potentially difficult issue.”
It warns that one option is to “close the bridge entirely”.
A spokesman admitted that “closure remains a possibility but it is something we will be seeking to avoid.”
He added: “Northumberland County Council is the lead authority for the Union Chain Bridge. However, we have a joint responsibility, and are working together to allow the refurbishment of the bridge to take place. It celebrates its 200th anniversary in 2020 and several organisations, including the Berwick Preservation Trust, are keen to secure its long-term future.”
A spokeswoman for Northumberland County Council said: “We appreciate the interest in this historic bridge and, with that in mind, we have undertaken an in-depth structural review of the bridge to ascertain its maintenance requirements. We are currently looking into various options and funding strategies with the Scottish Borders Council.”