Work to restore a historic bridge between Scotland and England could begin early next year, if funding is approved in May.
Built in 1820, the Union Chain Bridge is the oldest operational suspension bridge in the world still carrying vehicles, and through securing National Lottery support, it is anticipated that the bridge project can also deliver numerous cultural, heritage, educational and community benefits.
In March 2018, a first round National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) bid by Northumberland County Council (NCC), Scottish Borders Council (SBC), Museums Northumberland and community group Friends of the Union Chain Bridge to completely restore the famous structure, secured a £360,000 development grant.
It meant the £7.3million project could move into the next development phase to progress the scheme further, ahead of a second round submission to the NLHF. That submission will now be made by the end of May.
Councillor Glen Sanderson, cabinet member for Environment and Local Services with Northumberland County Council, said: ‘The NLHF bid process is extremely competitive. We have two years in which to submit a round two bid and over the past 10 months we have been working tirelessly to develop the project to a very advanced stage.
‘It really has highlighted the close working between ourselves, Museums Northumberland, the Friends of Union Chain Bridge and our colleagues in Scottish Borders Council – making it a very exciting and substantial cross-border, cross-Council venture – possibly the first of its kind.
‘We are confident that by May we will have developed the strongest bid possible for submission to the next round, so we can secure the funds needed to deliver this ambitious and exciting project.’
Councillor Gordon Edgar, Scottish Borders Council’s executive member for Roads and Infrastructure, said: ‘A massive amount of work has already been undertaken and over the next three months we expect to put the finishing touches to the bid documents, and to have secured all of the necessary consents from statutory bodies to enable the works to go ahead.
‘This will ensure we are able to present the strongest possible application to the National Lottery Heritage Fund to ensure we have the best possible chance of securing a successful round two pass.
‘While the round two application will now be submitted in late May 2019, this will not have a major impact on the planned timing of the restoration works, which are programmed to get underway in February next year.’
Robbie Hunter, chair of the Friends of Union Chain Bridge, said: ‘We are grateful for all of the hard work that has been undertaken by the project team and we all remain committed to securing the long term future of this amazing bridge.
‘It is fitting that the bid for round two funding will now be submitted just before the 200th anniversary of the laying of the original foundation stone for the bridge’s construction – with the bid marking the foundation for the proposed comprehensive conservation works that will safeguard the bridge as a vehicle crossing for at least a further 120 years.’