Part of Cornwall’s built heritage is to be dismantled and moved to Wales.
Historic England have upheld an appeal by Network Rail to delist the St. Austell station as a whole including the iconic iron foot bridge. Network Rail say too many changes have happened over the years at the station for it to be listed anymore and the footbridge is just a common GWR model. The decision was made because of “many years of stripping away its historic value by Network Rail” and against advice and public opinion according to Cornish Buildings Group.
Historic England desicion notice cites “considerable local concern over the potential de-listing of the station and, in particular, the footbridge. This has prompted a petition to save the footbridge as well as correspondence with the local MP who has objected to the possible de-listing, noting that the footbridge is valued by local people who wish to see it retained”.
However they concluded that cumulative change to the station, including the loss of the downside building and substantial alteration to the upside building means that the station no longer retains the special interest for which it was first listed.
“The footbridge of 1882 is of a standard design, typical of the GWR. Having lost its group value with the wider station, and being of a standard design, it does not merit listing in its own right.”
It’s a case of third time lucky for Network Rail, who had appeal to delist turned down in 2015. They applied again in July of last year.
The HE report concludes “After examining all the records and other relevant information and having carefully considered the architectural and historic interest of this case, the criteria for listing are no longer fulfilled. St Austell Railway Station and footbridge should be de-listed”
The full report is here
At present the bridge and station are designated heritage assets for St Austell. Under Historic England’s guidance to delist there is a “need for clear and convincing justification for harm or loss – substantial harm through physical impact – Less than substantial harm through development affecting the setting – substantial public benefits that outweigh substantial harm”
Network Rail have applied for demolition of the bridge in the past, only to be turned down by planners at Cornwall Council. They also lost the subsequent appeal. But back in July the launched a fresh appeal and the decision has gone in their favour this time.
Campaigners in St Austell including Cllr Mike Thompson and MP Steve Double have been calling for Network Rail to restore the bridge to it’s former glory rather than remove it.
Cllr Thompson told us “Network Rail had allowed this structure to become dilapidated and unsafe through inaction over a number of years which allowed arguments for replacement with newer facilities allowing much greater access. These replacements have been labelled as soulless by some and add nothing to the local environment.
The town councillor continued “This decision by Historic England obviously was deeply disappointing as it came as something of a shock simply because of the scarcity of this type of Heritage within Cornwall and the fact that St Austell uses much of it’s historical heritage to attract visitors to the town as it forms an integral part of the Discovery Map supported by St Austell Town Council.
It came at a time when Network Rail had spent £395,000 on upgrading a similar bridge in Wales.
Network Rail is a nationalised company and as such is spending taxpayer’s money, yet the petition and local campaign led by Steve Double and Cllr Sandra Heyward could not influence the opinion of the company.”
Network Rail have maintained that the bridge itself will be better preserved elsewhere. Back in July they told us “It was always our intention to carefully remove the existing bridge and find a long term home for it where it can properly be maintained in a suitable setting. We are currently working on this whilst making sure it is remains structurally safe.” They have now found a heritage railway in Wales to take it.
A spokesperson told us “Following this decision, we worked with the independent Railway Heritage Trust to find a long-term home for the footbridge where it can be maintained as an important part of our nation’s railway heritage.
When finding a partner for a project such as this, it is important that the partner they find is able to accept the asset immediately, but also have the ability and funding to work on the project. For the footbridge at St Austell, the Bala Lake Railway has been teamed up with for this project”
Historic England held the appeal hearing just before Christmas.
A statement from Cornish Buildings group reads
The station was opened on 4 May 1859 as part of the Cornwall Railway. The riveted iron lattice footbridge is dated 1882 and has the Great Western Railway monogram in the spandrels and is supported by pairs of cast-iron columns with enriched bases and capitals. Along with St Erth and Redruth, this was one of three listed station footbridges in Cornwall. Network Rail has already applied without success to demolish two of these, St Austell and St Erth, something the Group has monitored for some time now and remain concerned on their declining condition”
Local MP Steve Double said “I was very sorry to see the historic rail footbridge at St Austell railway station de-listed.”
“While the Minister was aware of the weight of public support for keeping the footbridge, this decision was essentially a planning one, and the amount of public support is not a planning consideration. Equally, based on the planning legislation used to make the decision, there were no planning grounds to keep it.”
“Since the decision was made, I have spoken to senior management at Network rail and expressed my disappointment that more was not done to find a new location for this part of our local heritage locally in Cornwall.”
“It is a shame that it has now also come to light that when the decision to put in the new footbridge was made, the removal of this one was part of the deal struck, and it is unfortunate our previous MP, who worked very closely with this project, did not tell the public about this at the time.”
An article in St Austell Voice described how back in October a part of the corrugated iron roof blew off in a gale which allowed Network Rail to use it as an example to say the bridge was becoming a danger.
Paul Holden, Chairman of the Cornish Buildings Group, said ‘This is a very disappointing decision and will undoubtedly create some vulnerability for both the bridge and the red brick signal box (c. 1899, closed in 1980), which we feel is every bit as good as the listed example in Par. Also at risk are good period railway buildings and canopies, an Edwardian upside station building, granite platforms, Great Western Railway railings, retaining walls and cobbled surfacing’.
The Group feel that St Austell was an important and iconic part of Cornwall’s railway heritage.
Mr Holden added ‘The station has lost its character over time, the historic downside station building was replaced some years back with a modern ticket office, waiting area, café and toilets with a loss of historic interiors, while a poorly designed and nationally unpopular Network Rail ‘standard’ lift bridge, has rendered the old crossing redundant. We feel that this decision reflects on the poor design standards applied by our local planning authority who have failed to listen to local voices and internal advice for many years regarding the state of this heritage asset’.
The plight of St Austell railway station is echoed by the Group’s concerns for the condition of a wider range of heritage assets including Polvellan Manor near Looe, Charlestown Chapel, the North-Light building at Tuckingmill used for cotton weaving in the safety-fuse factory, the Old Fire Station at Redruth and Wheal Busy on the Tregothnan Estate. The Group maintains its own heritage at risk register which can be seen on its website.