Time and costs warning over hopes for viaduct restoration

A VIADUCT spanning a West Yorkshire valley could be restored to its former glory – but the project could take years and be costly, a council has warned.

Kirklees Council would like to see improvement works to Cleckheaton Viaduct, a Grade II listed structure which was built to provide gently graded access to the former railway station on the opposite side of the Spen Valley from Cleckheaton town centre.

It passed into the ownership of Kirklees Council as a result of a purchase notice following a refusal of permission for it to be demolished.

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According to Gordon Biddle’s book, Britain’s Historic Railway Buildings, the viaduct is unique in that it is probably the largest “side bridge” (one not carrying an actual railway track) ever built in England.

But Kirklees Council has warned that money needs to be found to secure its long-term future.

A report for members of the Spen Valley Committee warns that the viaduct’s substructure of steel shows evidence of rusting and its long-term preservation requires full cleaning of all metalwork, repainting and renovation of all rainwater features, as well as long-term permanent strengthening, tree removal and repairs to the parapets.

Although the approaches to the viaduct have become overgrown, leaving only a fairly narrow track, it is regularly used by the public to cross the valley.

In 2007 the estimated cost of restoring the viaduct was £600,000, of which £200,000 was for the scaffolding alone.

The council report says that an arts project about the bridge could be a way of kick-starting some serious renovation work.

Councillors are being urged to back a £30,000 Heritage Lottery application for a “full community arts project” about the viaduct.

A possible way of doing this would be through the Mikron Theatre Company which could work with the community to research the viaduct’s history, design, build and impact,

“They would use performance art, songwriting and creative writing to develop and deliver an artisic legacy,” the report says.

Other activities could include a website, video archive, short film and a live theatre performance.

Submitting a Heritage Lottery Fund application would cost the council about £1,500, which could involve input from Mikron.

A partnership agreement could be negotiated with River Spen Action Group and the council with need to establish that the project has public support.

The council says a “strong bid needs a high level of community involvement with education and information being provided to raise awareness ahead of any large bid in the future”.

The report adds: “If successful this piece of work would be an important first step towards a much larger bid for funding for the full restoration of the viaduct.

“It is important to recognise that as the viaduct is a Kirklees Council asset, there are a number of obligations that the council has with regard to its maintenance.

“As the condition of the viaduct deteriorates there will be health and safety issues both from falling elements onto people below and even for the passage of people over the top.

“In addition, the Grade II listed status of the viaduct carries repair obligations that could be difficult to divest, given the reason that we acquired the structure in the first instance was as a consequence of the council’s refusal to allow demolition by the former owner.”

The council’s next steps are to:

Unite relevant parties to make an application for an arts grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund;

Hand over project management and financial monitoring to another organisation;

Report to the Spen Valley Committee at regular intervals;

Ensure suitable publicity.

Members of the Spen Valley Committee are to discuss the proposals in the report at a meeting at Cleckheaton Town Hall tomorrow.