Southwark council have issued the following lengthy statement on the controversy surrounding the state of the Cox’s Walk footbridge in Sydenham Hill woods and the plans to fell two oak trees very close to the bridge. The statement, available on the southwark.gov website, says:
Cox’s Walk footbridge
The Cox’s Walk footbridge was built around 1865, so that people could cross over the railway line which is in a cutting. The bridge was fully restored to its original design, using teak and iron, in 1906. The railway line was decommissioned in 1954, and the bridge fell into disrepair.
Based on tree age estimation techniques (see Arboricultural Report forming Appendix A to Alternative Options Technical Report – link below) and the construction activities associated with the bridge, it is likely that the two oak trees on the western bank, located either side of the bridge, were planted between 1865 and 1905.
Cox’s Walk footpath and the bridge form part of the formal adopted public highway network. Consequently we have a formal legal duty to keep the footbridge open as far as reasonable practicable whilst allowing for our duty of ensuring the public are kept safe.
Our 2018 Assessment Report (as below) said the footbridge was in a hazardous condition, because the supporting walls at each end of the bridge were at risk of failing. The report said that this posed little risk to the public, provided works to fix the problem were carried out within 18 months. Consequently the footpath was allowed to remain open and we scheduled refurbishment of the whole bridge, for October 2019. But for various reasons, including ensuring that all practical construction options had been explored, this has been delayed.
The risks associated with the bridge’s supporting walls have increased with the passage of time. They have also been compounded by the recent discovery of further significant safety issues concerning the bridge’s timber parapets and handrails; as identified during a recent inspection (see below). These two problems have now led to the closure of the bridge, on safety grounds.
We planted 15 replacement oak trees, in preparation for the original works, which proposed the full replacement of the supporting walls on either side of the bridge. This unfortunately required the removal of the two oaks trees on the west side of the bridge, in order to provide safe working conditions.
However, the works were delayed because of significant public interest concerning the loss of the oak trees, which included a petition with more than 2,000 signatures. So, we decided to put the planned works on hold, and see if there was any way we could preserve the trees.
Alternative construction options
We commissioned a report to investigate alternative construction options, which would maintain the oak trees. However, no practical alternatives to the current proposal were identified. Two options were worked up, but they were significantly more expensive than the original, proposed solution and would change the appearance of the bridge (see below).
Closure and diversion (pdf, 1.1mb)
Moving the bridge would involve building a new structure and, because we have a legal duty to keep the footbridge open, we’d have to apply to the Magistrates Court for a ‘stopping-up order’, in order to formally close the existing footbridge. To secure a ‘stopping-up order’, we’d have to prove to the Magistrates that the existing route is either unnecessary or that any alternative route would be better. Neither is applicable in this case, which means we would likely fail to secure a ‘stopping-up order’ and be required to maintain the current route over the existing bridge.
In addition to this, building a new bridge further along the track and creating a new footpath from it, would necessitate the removal of a significant number of trees and the of a new footbridge and the associated footpath, would be well in excess of £500,000.
Unfortunately, no short term repair work can make the bridge safe, so it has been closed until full refurbishment works can be completed.
The dilapidated condition of the footbridge means that no temporary structure could safely be constructed next to it. Constructing support for and a footpath from a temporary footbridge would also necessitate the removals of trees and vegetation.
If the council proceeds with our original plans, this would entail the replacement of the supporting walls (and full repairs to the current damaged parapets) being carried out in September/October 2020. This unfortunately would require the removal of the two adjacent oak trees. Those works would take approximately three to four months to complete, depending on progress and weather conditions. However, we fully recognise that members of the local community have contacted the council to express concern about these proposals. We will therefore be consulting and fully engaging with the local community in the period until August to explore whether there are further options open to the council which will enable the two oak trees to be retained.
Current closure of the footpath over the bridge
The current temporary closure of the footpath across the bridge will need to remain in place until the permanent works are completed. However, the council is currently looking at possible access options that will protect the environmentally sensitive area below the bridge, which according to the London Wildlife Trust is at risk of severe damage by walkers taking a short cut down the slope and onto the track bed.
With respect to the closure, local access either side of the bridge is maintained but anyone wishing to travel the full length of Cox’s Walk will be diverted via Sydenham Hill and Lordship Lane.
Frequently Asked Questions
A list of the most frequently received queries and comments has been prepared.
Should you have any queries regarding the above, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The significant amount of public interest in the bridge works and the associated potential removal of the two oak trees is wholly recognised and appreciated. Consequently, further public engagement will be undertaken before any works are carried out. The timescales for the current proposed works will also allow any independent options to be considered by any interested parties. We will fully support and assist with any such initiatives should any previous technical, geotechnical or survey reports be required.
The background documents for the project are available are as follows:
- 2018 assessment report (pdf, 3.4mb)
- Cox’s Walk footbridge refurbishment – general inspection report link (pdf, 7.4mb)
- Cox’s Walk footbridge – alternative repair options (including arboricultural report – Appendix A) (pdf, 4.7mb)
- Bat tree assessment (Nov 2019) (pdf, 2mb)
- Fact sheet (pdf, 196kb)
EDITOR’S NOTE: On January 24th we published a story headed: COX’S WALK FOOTBRIDGE TO BE SHUT BY SOUTHWARK COUNCIL ON MONDAY which featured an exchange of emails between Pennie Hedge of the Save the Footbridge Oaks Campaign and Southwark council’s head of highways Dale Foden.
News From Crystal Palace emailed Southwark council with a raft of questions on January 27th. Yesterday (Friday 14th) Southwark – at the third time of asking – referred us to the above statement, which was updated yesterday and which we have reproduced in full.
On January 27th News From Crystal Palace asked Southwark the following questions pointing out that the story had already attracted huge interest with more than 500 ‘hits’ on the News From Crystal Palace website:
Taking parts of Pennie Hedge’s email, please could Southwark council:
Say why Mr Foden considers the bridge to have suddenly become so dangerous?
Say why closing the bridge is the only option?
(Pennie Hedge says in her email “rot has been evident in the timber
frame for some time, with a large piece falling from the North West
side last Spring, as you will have noticed in your many site visits
last year. It has not deteriorated significantly since, and repairs
have been made by the London Wildlife Trust to secure the parapet,
which are still in place and firm. If anything needs to be closed
until the rotten timber is replaced, surely it is the path underneath
the bridge, not the bridge itself.”)
QUESTION: Will Southwark consider closing the path under the bridge
instead? If not, why not?
Pennie Hedge’s email continues:” In terms of the safety of the
abutments, as I have raised with you before, the Structural Survey in
May 2018 recommended horizontal propping for the bridge in advance of
the full repair. Three months ago in an email to me you said that you
would “arrange for a response in full to the points you have, most
specifically about the propping option.” but I have received nothing.
QUESTION: Did Mr Foden respond to the points raised, including the
propping option. If so, what did this response say? If no response has
been made, why not?
Pennie Hedge says: “Your own records show that the bridge has been
propped for previous repair…”
QUESTION: “…so why is this not possible now?
Pennie Hedge says: “I also note that the timber frame was found to be
adequate in the same survey, but that consideration of the use of
preservative treatment was recommended. This was not done, and now the
frame needs replacement.”
QUESTION: Was any preservative treatment undertaken? If not, why not?
Pennie Hedge refers to an “promises of the independent consultant
review, a fact sheet ‘in the very near future’ and continuing
information on the process. But it is now over 2 months since your
email of 12th November and we have heard nothing until this
QUESTION: Was any independent consultant review undertaken? If so,
what did it show? If no review was undertaken, why not?
Pennie Hedge says: “As we have offered before, we are willing to
crowdfund to help with any additional costs that might be involved in
works which repair the bridge, retain the oaks and minimise other
environmental damage to the nature reserve.”
QUESTION: Please could you ask whoever chairs the relevant committee
if they would be open to the crowdfunding idea?. A quote or two on
reasons for being open to such an idea or not would be welcome.
QUESTION: Any further points Southwark wish to add? If so, please feel free.