‘We’re being fobbed off!’ - say walkway campaigners

Sidmouth residents Freddy Wedderburn and Brian Black hope to get the green light to build a bridge c

Sidmouth residents Freddy Wedderburn and Brian Black hope to get the green light to build a bridge connecting Manor Road car park to Connaught Gardens. Picture by Alex Walton. Ref shs 7696-13-13AW - Credit: Archant

Campaigners behind a proposed footbridge over Peak Hill Road say their scheme is alive and kicking – and have vowed to fight on to make it a reality.

A concept of how the walkway would look

A concept of how the walkway would look - Credit: Archant

Determined duo Brian Black and Freddy Wedderburn responded to being told that highways bosses would not sanction the bid over a height wrangle by insisting that they will keep on trying.

“This is just another setback, of many we have encountered in the 12 years we have been working on the Connaught Walkway,” they said this week.

The pair claim to have been “fobbed off” over the years by Devon County Council (DCC) telling them that the required 18ft 8in clearance height of the structure was a European Union directive.

They say that with the help of East Devon MP Hugo Swire and MEP Giles Chichester they later found that there is no such law – and that the responsibility ultimately lies with county councils.

Freddy received a letter from DCC leader John Hart late last year saying the mooted structure was not one DCC would ‘adopt’ – even if it were to get planning permission.

Brian and Freddy remain especially frustrated over two matters.

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Firstly, they are irked that DCC “does not seem able to understand the measurements, classification or location of Peak Hill Road”.

“It is an unclassified meandering country lane with signed width restriction of six feet and 41 passing places leading to Otterton,” said Brian. “It is not a motorway or even an A30, A38 Class B or Class C road.”

He and Freddy say they have many photographs of bridges with height clearances down to 11ft 9ins in East and South Devon.

Secondly, the pair have dismissed the alternative suggestion of a pedestrian crossing on the site.

They say this will not achieve one of their main aims of separating people from moving traffic and, as a registered charity, they have raised money for a bridge.

“We continue to beg encouraged by the many thousands of residents and visitors who value Connaught Gardens,” said Freddy. “A footbridge [from the Manor Road car park] suitable for wheelchairs would be of great benefit.”

The campaigners say 16 stone steps from the car park, 42ft of narrow pavement and another 16 steps up to the gardens are difficult to negotiate – especially for families with beach items and pushchairs.

Brian and Freddy want the walkway to be just under 15ft in height and have suggested that warning signs could be erected at the foot of Peak Hill and at Pinn Lane corner prohibiting access to vehicles with a height of more than four metres (13 feet).

They say fire appliances and removal vehicles would still comfortably be able to traverse the stretch. A preferred installer and supplier for the walkway have already been identified.

DCC has consistently said it will not accept a ‘substandard’ height clearance for a new bridge over its highway network.

The UK’s National Standards Body requires 5.7 metres of clearance for footbridges and therefore it would raise an objection to any planning application on that basis.

Bosses say footbridges are ‘vulnerable’ to vehicular impact and the risk and liability of an accidental collision with an under-height bridge would be ‘significant’ – particularly if people were using it at the time.

DCC says it has offered ‘more suitable’ alternatives which include a zebra crossing, narrowing of the road with priority system, and a section of footway with disabled access to Connaught Gardens.

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