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Bridges, subways and walls

Cox’s Walk footbridge

The Cox’s Walk footbridge was built around 1865, so that people could cross over the railway line which is in a cutting. The bridge was fully restored to its original design, using teak and iron, in 1906. The railway line was decommissioned in 1954, and the bridge fell into disrepair.

Based on tree age estimation techniques (see Arboricultural Report forming Appendix A to Alternative Options Technical Report – link below) and the construction activities associated with the bridge, it is likely that the two oak trees on the western bank, located either side of the bridge, were planted between 1865 and 1905.

Cox’s Walk footpath and the bridge form part of the formal adopted public highway network. Consequently we have a formal legal duty to keep the footbridge open as far as reasonable practicable whilst allowing for our duty of ensuring the public are kept safe.

Footbridge condition

Our 2018 Assessment Report (as below) said the footbridge was in a hazardous condition, because the supporting walls at each end of the bridge were at risk of failing. The report said that this posed little risk to the public, provided works to fix the problem were carried out within 18 months. Consequently the footpath was allowed to remain open and we scheduled refurbishment of the whole bridge, for October 2019. But for various reasons, including ensuring that all practical construction options had been explored, this has been delayed.

The risks associated with the bridge’s supporting walls have increased with the passage of time. They have also been compounded by the recent discovery of further significant safety issues concerning the bridge’s timber parapets and handrails; as identified during a recent inspection (see below). These two problems have now led to the closure of the bridge, on safety grounds.

Footbridge works

We planted 15 replacement oak trees, in preparation for the original works, which proposed the full replacement of the supporting walls on either side of the bridge. This unfortunately required the removal of the two oaks trees on the west side of the bridge, in order to provide safe working conditions.

However, the works were delayed because of significant public interest concerning the loss of the oak trees, which included a petition with more than 2,000 signatures. So we decided to put the planned works on hold, and see if there was any way we could preserve the trees.

Alternative construction options

We commissioned a report to investigate alternative construction options, which would maintain the oak trees. However, no practical alternatives to the current proposal were identified. Two options were worked up, but they were significantly more expensive than the original, proposed solution and would change the appearance of the bridge (see below).

Closure and diversion (pdf, 1.1mb)

Moving the bridge would involve building a new structure and, because we have a legal duty to keep the footbridge open, we’d have to apply to the Magistrates Court for a ‘stopping-up order’, in order to formally close the existing footbridge. To secure a ‘stopping-up order’, we’d have to prove to the Magistrates that the existing route is either unnecessary or that any alternative route would be better. Neither is applicable in this case, which means we would likely fail to secure a ‘stopping-up order’ and be required to maintain the current route over the existing bridge.

In addition to this, building a new bridge further along the track and creating a new footpath from it, would necessitate the removal of a significant number of trees and the of a new footbridge and the associated footpath, would be well in excess of £500,000.

Next steps

Unfortunately, no short term repair work can make the bridge safe, so it has been closed until full refurbishment works can be completed.

The dilapidated condition of the footbridge means that no temporary structure could safely be constructed next to it. Constructing support for and a footpath from a temporary footbridge would also necessitate the removals of trees and vegetation.

If the council proceeds with our original plans, this would entail the replacement of the supporting walls (and full repairs to the current damaged parapets) being carried out in September/October 2020. This unfortunately would require the removal of the two adjacent oak trees. Those works would take approximately three to four months to complete, depending on progress and weather conditions. However, we fully recognise that members of the local community have contacted the council to express concern about these proposals. We'll therefore be consulting and fully engaging with the local community in the period until August to explore whether there are further options open to the council which will enable the two oak trees to be retained.

Current closure of the footpath over the bridge

The current temporary closure of the footpath across the bridge will need to remain in place until the permanent works are completed. However, the council is currently looking at possible access options that will protect the environmentally sensitive area below the bridge, which according to the London Wildlife Trust is at risk of severe damage by walkers taking a short cut down the slope and onto the track bed.

With respect to the closure, local access either side of the bridge is maintained but anyone wishing to travel the full length of Cox’s Walk will be diverted via Sydenham Hill and Lordship Lane.

Frequently Asked Questions

A list of the most frequently received queries and comments has been prepared.

Communication

Should you have any queries regarding the above, email highways@southwark.gov.uk.

The significant amount of public interest in the bridge works and the associated potential removal of the two oak trees is wholly recognised and appreciated. Consequently, further public engagement will be undertaken before any works are carried out. The timescales for the current proposed works will also allow any independent options to be considered by any interested parties. We will fully support and assist with any such initiatives should any previous technical, geotechnical or survey reports be required.

Documents

The background documents for the project are available are as follows:

Alternative design provided by campaigners for the retention of the two oak trees

An alternative preliminary design has been submitted by the campaigners for the retention of the two oak trees. An arboricultural report has also been submitted by the campaigners (see attached report). The alternative proposal has been comprehensively reviewed and a technical report prepared on the practicality and feasibility of the proposal (see attached report). If you have queries or comments on the attached report, email us.

Consultation on alternative proposals

The council highway and arboricultural officers held an online local ward forum meeting, chaired by your local ward Councillors. This took place on Tuesday 22 September, where any queries on the report and the overall project were addressed. Further to the meeting, the Council has received further questions on the review of the proposal. Attached are the questions (pdf, 433kb) and the responses (docx, 30kb) to the queries.

The current position

The original planning approval to ‘fell’ the two oak trees has expired and the council has submitted a new application to the planning department.

For your information, the planning application for the felling of the two trees can be found at the planning website. For more information about the planning applications, visit this website and enter the reference number 20/AP/3632.

Update

We've committed to honour the Tree Protection Order put in place by our Planning team and to pause any works on the footbridge. We'll continue to carry out inspections of the structure, particularly the underside, to ensure the safety of the public. The footbridge itself will remain closed to the public until a solution is determined to the address the essential repair works to the footbridge.

The council is legally required to keep Cox’s Walk open and accessible as this forms part of the public highway. This means that a crossing, over the deep gully, must be provided and maintained as soon as practicable. We recognise the deep concern for the future of two oak trees, adjacent to the footbridge, which have been previously identified as requiring removal to ensure that the repair works can be safely carried out.

We recognise the considerable time and effort made by the campaigners in working to find a solution that will fulfil the objectives of repairing the bridge whilst retaining the trees. Consequently, we'll be tasking our new structures consultant to review all available options, including those previously discounted on technical and financial grounds, such as a preliminary design submitted by a local campaign group. This consultants’ brief will identify any means of reopening an accessible walkway over the gully, which will enable the two oak trees adjacent to the footbridge, to stay in place.

The intention is to engage with the public once the consultant has completed this work.

Page last updated: 31 March 2021

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