Campaigners have voiced concerns about ‘damaged stonework’ and ‘poor repairs’ at a historic railway bridge in Cumbria which National Highways exhumed last year at an ‘eyewatering’ cost to the taxpayer.

In June 2021, Great Musgrave bridge near Kirkby Stephen was controversially in-filled by Nation Highways under emergency permitted development rights, jeopardising the longstanding plans of the Eden Valley and Stainmore railways to connect their operations by reinstating the track under it.

News and Star: The infilled bridge at Great MusgraveThe infilled bridge at Great Musgrave (Image: HRE)But following the in-filling, and after a sustained campaign by railway heritage groups, an enforcement notice was issued, requiring the removal of 1,600 tonnes of stone and concrete by October last year.

National Highways has now confirmed that the work cost £352,000, almost three times the £124,000 spent on the original in-fill scheme.

No strengthening or disposal costs were incurred, with the material now being stockpiled on the trackbed just north of the bridge.

“It’s an eyewatering figure”, says Mike Thompson, project manager for the Stainmore Railway Company.

“This kind of money would be transformational in our sector - it would have brought real progress with our future infrastructure works.

“The damage has been caused by National Highways through its blinkered approach to managing these assets and a lack of dialogue with stakeholders.”

The HRE say that a recent inspection of Great Musgrave bridge has found that masonry damaged when the concrete was broken out was repaired using a ‘restoration mortar’ that masks defects and seals in moisture, preventing the stonework from breathing.

News and Star: The repairs of the bridgeThe repairs of the bridge (Image: HRE)According to conservation specialists, the products have a predicted lifespan of around 30 years but can then decay.

Graeme Bickerdike, a member of The HRE Group of engineers, heritage campaigners and greenway developers, said, “Given the circumstances, it’s disappointing to discover that National Highways has taken the cheap and easy approach to repairing the stonework it damaged.

"The work carried out to Great Musgrave bridge will ultimately require more public money to put right and they’ve already wasted almost half-a-million pounds on a structure that, prior to its in-filling, was fundamentally fine.”

READ MORE: Great Musgrave bridge to reopen after 'costly shambles'

Hélène Rossiter, head of historical railways estate at National Highways said: “We are passionate about our role in protecting Britain’s railway heritage. Our priority is to maintain these old structures to prevent the risk of harm to the public.

“It cost £352,000 to safely and carefully remove the infill without damaging Great Musgrave bridge.

“This cost includes all elements of the project delivered at the site, including resurfacing the road and ensuring the site and compound were kept secure during the works."