Bennerley Viaduct is a rare, 430 metre long wrought iron viaduct on the Nottinghamshire / Derbyshire border. Built in 1877 to carry the Great Northern Railway line over the Erewash Valley, it is an outstanding example of Victorian railway architecture, surviving in an almost unaltered state. It is one of only two wrought iron viaducts left in the UK. Historic England recognised its importance in 1974 by granting it a Grade II* listing (Historic England list entry 1140437). On a global scale, most wrought iron viaducts have now been demolished.
Following the closure of the Great Northern Line in 1968, the tracks and embankments were removed, leaving the viaduct unconnected and without any useful function. In 1974, the uncertainty surrounding the viaduct’s future led to it being registered as ‘Heritage at Risk’ by Historic England. A year later, British Rail applied to demolish the viaduct but both Erewash and Broxtowe Borough Councils councils refused permission. A public Inquiry was held in 1980 at which British Rail continued to seek demolition. However, the local community proposed an alternative vision to bring the viaduct back into use as a walking and cycling trail. The threat of demolition was averted while feasibility studies were undertaken. Unfortunately, local groups did not have the resources at that time to bring this idea to fruition.
In 1998, when the rail network was privatised, the viaduct passed into the ownership of Railway Paths Ltd, a sister charity to Sustrans, the national walking and cycling charity who are the principal custodians of the National Cycling Network. Over 300 miles of redundant rail trackbed had been given to Sustrans with the intention that these routes be brought into public use or incorporated into the growing National Cycling Network.
2015 – 2017: Rediscovering Bennerley Viaduct
A significant development in the viaduct’s recent history was the highly successful Heritage Lottery funded project “Rediscovering Bennerley Viaduct” (2015 – 2017). This Sustrans led project raised the profile of the viaduct and inspired the local community to take a fresh interest in restoring and re-opening the structure. An integral part of this project was the creation of the Friends of Bennerley Viaduct (FoBV), a thriving community group who are passionate about bringing the structure back into use. An ambitious £8 million project was proposed to restore and repurpose the structure with a £4.6m bid being submitted to Heritage Lottery. Although the bid was not successful on its first attempt, Heritage Lottery considered the project was a strong one recommending its resubmission. Sadly, in early 2018, Sustrans announced that due to other priorities within their organisation, they no longer wished to lead on taking the Bennerley Viaduct project forwards.
Since 2018, the FoBV have been working in partnership with the viaduct’s owners, Railway Paths Limited, as part of the “Access to Heritage” project which aims to restore the structure, enable public access and create an inspirational green public space which has the “Iron Giant” as its stunning centrepiece. In July 2019, planning consent was granted to bring the viaduct back into use as a walking and cycling trail after 50 years of closure.