Tintagel Bridge : English Heritage told ‘Nice cantilevers but you must be more Cornish’

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The winning design for the new footbridge at Tintagel Photo: Ney & Partners.

A controversial planning application from “English Heritage” to build a new footbridge between the mainland and island at Tintagel was considered yesterday by planning officers at County Hall.

It was only the first stage of the application,  pre planning advice and feedback for a new 70m high 67m long bridge across to “King Arthur’s Island”.

Apparently, there used to be a natural bridge across to the island but for centuries  people have had use hundreds of steps and then a modest wooden bridge to get to the site. Tbh don’t know cause I’ve never been. Like probably most Cornish people?

English Heritage decided enough was enough and launched an international  competition to design a new bridge. It’s estimated it will cost £4m and should be ready in 2019.

More than 100 architects from 27 countries expressed an interest in the project and it was won by a partnership between Belgian company Ney & Partners Civil Engineers and British architects William Matthews Associates.

The new bridge is also part of a plan for EH to squeeze more money out of one of their prize assets, one of only a handful in the country to make them a profit.

The planning officer gave this general advice before a site meeting planned for this coming Monday on the acceptability in principal of the proposed works to Tintagel Castle:

“As you will be able to appreciate it is not yet possible to give you firm assurance on this matter.

Leaving aside the Habitat Regulations (dealt with below) whatever outcome an application encounters will lie very much in the planning balance as viewed by the Council’s decision makers. On the one hand the introduction of a significant element of infrastructure (albeit a very elegant one) into a dramatic landscape nationally designated for its natural beauty is bound to raise a number of sensitive planning issues. Similarly, it is clear that its relative inaccessibility over two millennia is integral to the site’s historic significance – and the introduction of a feature that conversely increases that accessibility requires some consideration. And on the other hand lie the economic benefits to the local area that could be expected to follow a rise in visitor numbers and the improvement of public access to this very important historic asset”

The cultural dimension

English Heritage at Tintagel Castle has been accused of the “Disneyfication” of the site and the eradication of any meaningful history  for the sake of inflated profits.

Especially if that real history doesn’t fit into their story. But isn’t that the essence of a good Disney film?  Don’t suppose many historians were consulted on Pocohontas  either…

“As you will be aware, Tintagel Castle holds a special place in the hearts of many people in Cornwall as a focal point for Cornish celtic identity. To this end I strongly suggest that early contact is made with Gorsedh Kernow (Cornish Gorsedd) a non-political organisation, which exists to maintain the national Celtic spirit of Cornwall”

In conclusion, in my opinion an application for a footbridge at Tintagel could be capable of being supported – subject to the above advice being incorporated into any submission; the full and careful consideration of the advice of specialist consultees; and, in particular, it being demonstrable that no harm would result to the sensitive ecology of the site”.

Commenting on the detailed design of the bridge as well as the proposed routes and construction methodology for the footpaths, the officer notes  “The corbelled and restrained design of the bridge appears very much to be the most apposite for this setting, and its metaphorical ‘break’ is a welcome feature. With regard to the construction methodology for footpaths, I consider that is difficult to comment without the in-depth consideration of the impact on the site’s ecology that will emerge from the Appropriate Assessment to be submitted under the Habitat Regulations”

Is the path to the island a public right of way?

The feedback to the application then dealt with the increased traffic and public footpaths.

“It is unlikely such a proposal will have a significant impact in terms of highway safety, however, it may be beneficial to detail the likely increase in vehicle movements to the town associated with the increase in visitor numbers”

“If the path to the castle is highway at all, it is likely to be a public right of way and the constraint of a right of way has been revealed the site identified by the enquirer ..”

The council has also said the bridge plans will need to fit in with the yet to be finalised Tintagel Council Neighbourhood Plan and also of course now, the Cornwall Local Plan that was adopted last November. The application has 16 points from the Local plan it needs to address.

Habitat

As Tintagel is a SSSI & AONB English Heritage have been told that  “absolutely critical to the determination of this application will be outcome of the Council’s review (as competent authority) of the environmental assesment. So in reviewing the submission, the Council has to be certain that no harm will occur to the site. If this test is not shown to be passed, the Council will be obliged to refuse the application. As you’ll be aware, this is a very exacting test. Accordingly I would advise that this should be of the very highest quality”

According to William Matthews Architects who CS contacted for comment the full planning application was expected to be submitted within a month or so and decided by May. However they may now have a bit more work on their hands than they expected…

 

 “English” Heritage?

A highly respected Cornish cultural historian Dr Tehmina Goskar has written recently of the “demonstrable upset caused by the new interpretation at Tintagel” amongst Cornish communities, and wider groups of interest.

 

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The Legend Lives on, especially if you keep repeating it… Photo: Dr Tehmina Goskar

Dr Goskar writes:

“Having the growing official recognition of distinctiveness in Cornish identity, culture and heritage, Cornwall’s story does not easily fit into England’s story so what impact is this having on the Cornish historic sites, and their audiences? Is an Anglo-centric approach appropriate?

The hope is that the airing of these issues in a systematic, question-driven way will help everyone learn from the problems with new interpretation at Tintagel Castle

They are apposite not just to the situation at Tintagel but more widely concern methods of interpretation of Cornish history, medieval history, and the ways in which sites with multiple protective designations are treated by heritage agencies”

The whole King Arthur connection to Tintagel is very dubious but don’t let truth get in the way of a good story.

Dr Goskar:  “Tintagel Castle’s early medieval history as the seat of Cornish Dumnonian kings/leaders is over-shadowed by a Victorian populist idea of King Arthur whose links with Tintagel are no more significant than the literary/historical figure’s links with many other sites in Britain and Europe. Why is Tintagel used to propagate this myth?Tintagel’s early medieval period is branded as the Dark Ages. Dark Ages is an obsolete, value-laden term, not even used by school teachers anymore. For this period in Cornish history some of the richest and most numerous archaeological finds have emerged – so why call it the Dark Ages?

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Dr Tehmina Goskar

Authority

“Tintagel is special. The historic complex that comprises Tintagel Castle is part of a rich geological, archaeological and natural landscape that is protected by a number of designations. It is a Scheduled Ancient Monument monitored by Historic England. It is set in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) with Tintagel’s cliffs designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) both monitored by Natural England. Cornwall Council has selected Tintagel as an Area of Great Historic Value in its Local Plan. The island part of the site is owned by the Duchy of Cornwall.

Tintagel Castle itself is one of several historic sites in Cornwall actively managed by English Heritage Trust (now an independent charity licensed to manage the “national heritage collection” on license from Historic England). Many are free to roam/enter while a few are paid entry, such as Tintagel Castle, Chysauster Ancient Village and Pendennis Castle–larger complexes looked after by property managers or seasonal custodians offering visitors a more mediated experience.

As such, there are competing designations at Tintagel and different authorities that have a duty to protect its precious distinctiveness and those same authorities with reciprocal duties towards its communities.

The Home Nations, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, have enjoyed autonomy over their historic environments and how it is interpreted for decades and given the spirit of Cornwall’s (first) Devolution Deal, and the context of Cornish National Minority Status, it seems to be an anomaly that Historic England and English Heritage continue to govern and make decisions on Cornwall’s historic environment (where decisions take place mainly outside Cornwall) without due care to include Cornish communities in decision-making and planning.

While Cornwall Council are currently planning to address the devolution of discussion and decision-making on the historic environment to Cornwall, in the form of a Board and Forum called “Heritage Kernow,” the set-up of this new group is yet to be publicised and its remit and constituents largely unknown.

An ongoing Parliamentary consultation of oral and written evidence called Countries of Culture is questioning how culture and heritage is supported, funded and how services are delivered, with a particular focus on the work of Arts Council England (responsible for central government funding for museums, archives and libraries and arts organisations) which has come under scrutiny for bias towards London, big cities and certain types of culture that may inadvertently be serving a minority elite.

Given the problematic context of other un-devolved English agencies, the challenges facing Cornish heritage and its expression become even more complex”

 

Full article and more and detailed info can be found here at the excellent and highly recommended:

Dr Tehmina Goskar’s Blog

 

The Winning Concept – from Ney & Partners / William Matthews Associates website:

“The design of Tintagel Castle Footbridge is based on the simple concept of recreating the link that once existed and crossed the present void. Instead of introducing a third element that spans from side to side, we propose two independent cantilevers that reach out and almost touch in the middle. The new bridge will enhance the visitor experience, enabling more people to discover the site and facilitate its understanding. The main access route via the historic inner gate of the lower ward offers dramatic views of the castle ruins and the Island of Tintagel. It is at this point that the bridge will reveal itself, without imposing its presence, it will draw visitors naturally to this point. The structure tapers from a height of 4.5m where it springs from the rock face to just 170mm at the centre, with an open joint between the mainland and island halves. The proposed materials of the bridge are simple, durable, and appropriate to the context of the site. The main structure and balustrading will be in steel, the deck surface will be slate and the handrail will be in oak. For the main structure, we propose Corten / Weathering Steel”

 

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