Repair work to the UK’s oldest road suspension bridge as part of the government’s levelling up agenda is due to begin. 

Whorlton Bridge, near Barnard Castle, was closed in 2019 after an assessment found it was not safe for vehicles or pedestrians. 

Residents warned the bridge could suffer a catastrophic collapse despite weight restrictions meaning only one vehicle could use it at a time. 

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The old toll, also the UK’s earliest surviving iron chain suspension bridge, opened in 1831 and is categorised as a scheduled monument by Historic England.

Residents shared their concerns with Bishop Auckland MP Dehenna Davison, including the diversion through Ovington and Winston which adds around six miles to the crossing, and the economic impact including on a local pub which has closed.

They also feared the bridge is ‘an accident waiting to happen’ for walkers and cyclists.

The campaign to repair and reopen the bridge benefited from a share of £20 million investment from the government as part of its Levelling Up Fund in 2021. Once reopened, it will link nearby villages to the A66 and A67. 

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Now, Durham County Council has confirmed VolkerLaser as the main contractor appointed to carry out repairs. 

The council confirmed it has compiled a detailed design for the repair required and an application for consent is now being considered by Historic England.

A compound will be constructed on site this autumn, followed by the installation of a cable crane to dismantle the bridge piece by piece, before restoring and rebuilding the structure. 

Cllr John Shuttleworth, the authority’s cabinet member for rural communities and highways, said: “We are delighted that we are one step closer to restoring the historic bridge to its former glory and would like to thank members of the public for their patience whilst the programme of repairs has been developed.”