United Kingdom

Fury of locals over new £780 toll on crossing that links two hamlets

For nearly 70 years, the residents of two hamlets separated by a narrow river have used an iron bridge to visit each other.

But they have been left fuming after suddenly being told they must pay £780 a year each to use it – or face a ten-mile detour.

The pretty bridge provides a convenient shortcut for residents of 13 properties in Brandon Bank, Norfolk, and 35 homes in Little Ouse, Cambridgeshire, to cross the county line – many using it to commute or for the school run.

But now they will be banned from it unless they pay the 'outrageous' charge imposed by the South Yorkshire Pensions Authority (SYPA), which owns a 13,000-acre estate that the Little Ouse river winds through.

The bridge provides a convenient shortcut for residents of 13 properties in Brandon Bank, Norfolk, and 35 homes in Little Ouse, Cambridgeshire

Those who wish to use the bridge will now to be banned unless they pay the charge imposed by the South Yorkshire Pensions Authority (SYPA)

For £780 – a £650 base cost plus VAT – homeowners will be issued with two key fobs to cross a gate that is being installed by a contractor. Extra fobs are £90 each.

Farmers, who drive tractors and sugar beet lorries over the 60ft bridge, are even worse off as they face a £3,000-a-year toll to use the bridge, which was previously free. 

A letter from property consultants Bidwells, acting for SYPA, announced: 'The gate will be installed on the Norfolk side of the river on the private road and access will only be gained by using a key fob.

'To ensure that vehicles do not meet on the bridge, traffic light signals will also be installed, which will signal when there is oncoming traffic approaching. 

'Those wishing to continue using the bridge to access their properties will have to pay a contribution towards the annual maintenance of the bridge.'

It also warned the steep annual fee depended 'on the uptake of the scheme' and it reserved 'the right to review the annual maintenance contribution'.

Locals have accused SYPA of trying to 'bully' them into submission. Debbi-Jayne Challenger, from Little Ouse, said there were around 200 people who regularly used the bridge and that locals had carried out the 'odd repair' on it over the years.

She added: 'People are very angry about being asked for money. They say it's for maintenance but it's never been maintained since the 1970s.'

For nearly 70 years, residents separated by the narrow river have used the bridge to visit each other

Homeowners will be issued two key fobs to cross a gate that is being installed at the bridge for the charge of £780 – a £650 base cost plus VAT

Neighbour Lorraine Fleming added: 'The charges are absolutely outrageous and we feel as though we are being bullied.

'Villagers have been able to cross the bridge freely for decades and now we will be forced to pay a huge price or take a massive detour. 

'Many children go to school in the neighbouring county and the school run will now be an extra ten-mile detour for them in both directions unless they pay.'

Nicolette Tinsley, from Brandon Bank, said: 'They are a multi-billion pound company and they are trying to impose these huge charges on us.

'It's extreme and too much money. We are being charged corporate prices. There was absolutely no public consultation about the costs.' 

She added: 'If we don't go over the bridge and we take the detour, we have to go down a single track lane which is not ideal.'

Locals said the bridge was built in the 1950s by a co-operative of local farmers – with a contribution from the county council – and was acquired by SYPA in the 1990s. 

It is scheduled to close from Monday for the gates to be installed and will re-open with the toll system on December 7.

Residents of the two hamlets must decide by tomorrow if they want to pay for the scheme.

A Bidwells spokesman said meetings had been held with local groups and said the move was 'not a profit-making exercise'.

He added: 'Whoever owns the bridge will need to build up a substantial sinking fund... At some stage the bridge will need to be replaced and that fund would need to be available.'

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