Bennerley Viaduct is a survivor making it through storms, floods and attempts to demolish. Other wrought iron viaducts such as the Crumlin, Dowery Dell, Staithes and Belah have all disappeared from the landscape. In the British Isles, only the Meldon (Devon) and Bennerley survive and on a global scale, there are few wrought iron viaduct that remain.
British Rail Seek Demolition
After the closure of the Friargate line in 1968, British Rail wanted to demolish the structure. The viaduct no longer had a purpose and its ongoing maintenance had become a financial liability for them. Tenders were sought for its demolition. Due to its wrought iron construction, it could not be cut up using conventional metal cutting equipment and wrought iron had little scrap value. The eye wateringly high cost of demolition gave the viaduct some respite.
The viaduct was given grade 2* listing in 1974, a designation that gave the viaduct increased protection as it was deemed to be a structure of national importance. Undeterred, British Rail applied to Broxtowe Borough Council and Erewash Borough Council in 1975 to demolish but they were refused permission.
In 1980, the proposal to demolish went to public enquiry. Local people, councils and special interest groups joined forces to convince the government inspector that the viaduct was an invaluable feature of the country’s industrial and railway heritage. A proposal to repurpose the viaduct as a walking and cycling trail was put forward by the community.
Tarzan to the Rescue
Environment Secretary Michael Heseltine gave the iron giant a temporary stay of execution requesting a feasibility study into the proposals to repurpose Bennerley Viaduct as a walking and cycling trail. The Bennerley Viaduct Preservation Trust was formed shortly afterwards. For nearly two decades, this group promoted the vision of re-opening the viaduct successfully countering those who sought the viaduct’s demolition.
Marooned and Abandoned
The abandonment of the viaduct had led to renewed calls for its removal by those who saw the viaduct as an eyesore and a safety risk. In the 1980s, the viaduct effectively sat in an opencast coal mine. The embankment on the eastern abutment was removed leaving the viaduct marooned and abandoned. Despite the calls of many seeking demolition, the viaduct survived.
Change of Ownership
In 1998, following the privatisation of the railways, the ownership of the viaduct was passed to Railway Paths Ltd, a sister charity to Sustrans. Over 200 miles of old trackbed and over 700 railway structures were given to RPL with the expectation that these routeways be incorporated into the emerging National Cycling Network.
Rediscovering Bennerley Viaduct
In 2015, Sustrans secured a £40,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund for a project called “Rediscovering Bennerley Viaduct.” The project sought to engage the community and assess the levels of support for bringing the viaduct back into use as a walking and cycling trail. The support from the community was strong and the Friends of Bennerley Viaduct (FoBV) was formed. In 2017 Sustrans, in partnership with the FoBV, developed an £8.3 million project to restore and repurpose the viaduct as a walking and cycling trail. Funding for the project was sought from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF)
Sustrans withdraw from Project
Heritage Lottery assessed the project and considered it to be a strong one. On its first attempt, the bid narrowly missed out on securing funding. HLF considered the project to be a priority recommending resubmission. Sustrans initially planned to submit a revised application but feared that match funding may not be available. In February 2018, Sustrans decided not to pursue the project passing responsibility for future projects back to the owners, Railway Paths Ltd.
Access to Heritage
Since March 2018, the Friends of Bennerley Viaduct have worked closely with Railway Paths to develop an incremental project which aims to secure the future of the viaduct for generations to come. The first stage of the project “Access to Heritage” should lead to the viaduct being re-opened to the public in 2020 after 50 years of closure and abandonment.
Bennerley Viaduct – the Survivor
The viaduct escaped demolition by a combination of good fortune and by the efforts of so many people, councils and organisations who all continue to join forces to ensure it can be enjoyed by future generations. Bennerley Viaduct is a survivor.