Prior to the meeting we had a wee blether with one of the Highland Council representatives for Cawdor, Roddy Balfour, about the situation and what has to be done next.
It was a large meeting and there must have been perhaps 150-200 people in the Cawdor School gym on one of the warmest nights of the year. The ventilator had to be turned off too to reduce the noise to enable converstation. On the top table were Cllrs Roddy Balfour and Kate Stephen and the Highland Council officials William Gillfillan and John Taylor. Here are a few notes that this observer made during the meeting:
Kate Stephen opened proceedings stating how the Cawdor Community Council had not only wanted the meeting to be for Cawdor but for other areas that would be impacted by the weight restriction. She stressed that the meeting was a first response and not yet a full professional response, a first chance for the community to voice their concerns.
Roddy spoke of the history of the White Bridge and the developments in recent years that have led to the current situation. The White Bridge is the oldest bridge in the Highland Council area dating from 1749. You can also see the wee blether we had with Roddy prior to the meeting in which he details some of the background and recent situation. Roddy said that the Highland Council have a duty of care to make the bridge safe and thus the weight limit. It appears that buses will not be affected by the 18 tonne restriction which will be good news for Cawdor Castle. Roddy went on to explain how due to extreme urgency the bridge would now leap frog up the capital programme. He thought that a temporary Bailey Bridge might be installed by the council possibly with army help. The route had become an alternative A96 in the last few years according to Roddy.
It was then left to John Taylor to be more specific about the damage to the bridge. He told everyone that the bridge had a number of defects associated with repeated heavy loading, including: separation of the spandrel walls from the arch rings; cracking of the arch ring stones and outward leaning of the walls.
The bridge has to be repaired but achieving this presents difficulties too, it emerged that only certain repairs can be carried out while the bridge is busy, a closure and diversion would be necessary for more the more difficult repairs. Extra passing places might be necessary on alternative routes and it also emerged that the bridge situation had come into the public domain a bit sooner than the council would have liked due to a timber transport issue that had to be resolved.
Cllr Kate Stephen explained the difference between consultation that was part of a process that was going ahead anyway and the type of consultation where nothing had been decided – it was a good move given the large number of people present not au fait with the language and mechanics of local government. There was also an explanation about a recommendation being in fact a fait accompli when it comes to the condition of the bridge.
Cawdor Estate’s Steve Connolly asked if there was a timescale for a decision on a temporary or permanent replacement. William Gilfillan told him that there were problems such as land negotiations and environmental issues but if it went clearly then it would be about a year but otherwise “your guess is as good as mine”.
Willie Lean was angered by the situation and he rounded on the council representatives, urging them to take quick action. Those on the top table made an effort to explain all the things they were obliged to do which there was no magic way of avoiding. Kate Stephens herself expressed her frustrations with some of the procedures that they had to follow.
The starkest example so far of what the weight restriction would mean to the local community came when Daniel Walker, a local farmer with land on both sides of the bridge told the meeting that he had cut 700 tonnes of silage during the day and if he had had to take a 26.4 mile detour due to an 18 tonne weight restriction that would have cost his business an extra £4,000 –“for today” he stressed. He added that his tractors filled with silage weighed 22 tonnes.
Lynn Forbes, who farms at Little Kildrummie, spoke of the effect making the road from the Howford to the Croy Road an alternative route would have. She said that there were 12 families living along the route with only three passing places. Her views were supported by Billy Macintosh who drives that road four times a day and explained the dangers he sees.
It became evident just how concerned the community is as the meeting went on, there is a feeling that bit by bit Cawdor is being cut off; concern was expressed that if sufficient traffic was diverted via the Howford Bridge then perhaps that too might end up deteriorating and might need a weight restriction – a domino effect.
There are going to be more consultation meetings to come about the bridge and alternative routes that will have to be consideredand you can submit comments yourself if you wish. Details of how to do that at the bottom of page 1 of this document here. This isn’t going to just affect Cawdor but folk elsewhere too where traffic might be diverted – worth paying a little attention now and then perhaps.