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Design phase under way for new £8.7 million north coast 'lifeline' bridge

By Caroline McMorran

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Design work has begun on an £8.7 million infrastructure project to replace a vital bridge on the main A836 north coast road.

Highland Council awarded a design contract in March to civil engineers Fairhurst for the replacement of the 140-year-old Naver Bridge, which crosses the River Naver near Bettyhill, and the design phase has now started.

North West and Central Sutherland councillor Linda Munro has previously called for the construction of the new bridge to be accelerated because of concerns over the structural integrity of the existing iron structure. Work was not due to start before 2024.

Fears over the condition of the bridge, opened in 1881 by the Duke of Sutherland, have been exacerbated by the prospect of an increase in traffic on the route with the construction of Sutherland Space Hub at A’Mhoine.

Cllr Munro, who said the bridge was “hanging in rust”, lobbied UK business secretary Greg Clark over the ageing structure when he visited the site of the planned spaceport in August 2018.

She told sister paper the Northern Times this week: “Highland Council’s then director of planning Stuart Black and myself asked Mr Clark if he could help with Naver Bridge. He said he could not, but was prepared to speak to the Scottish Government to have it frontloaded.

“Highland Council officials have worked along with the government to bring this to fruition. I am delighted, absolutely delighted that it has reached this stage. It is a huge investment and a well deserved win for the community. We have waited our turn and now it is our turn.”

She said the bridge was a "lifeline" and saved a 26-mile diversion round Strathnaver.

Design and consenting work is expected to run for around 18 months with the construction phase down to take place from 2023-24.

Topographical surveys were carried out last week on both sides of the river and in the river itself. An aerial survey was carried out by drone and a surface vehicle probed the riverbed with an echo sounder.

Highland Council engineer Simon Farrow spoke about the new bridge at a recent meeting of Bettyhill, Strathnaver and Altnaharra Community Council.

The planned 84m long, steel and concrete structure will carry a double track road and will require around 500 metres of new double carriageway from the west. This will take a new line both to enable construction to take place alongside the present bridge.

A number of possible designs have been considered but the local authority’s preference is for a two span structure supported by a single pier, although that is being reviewed by the consultant engineers.

Mr Farrow reassured the community council that although there was corrosion in the metal of the existing bridge and some damage to the piers, it was deemed safe for the current level of usage.

Environmental impacts of the new structure are under consideration with the Naver, which is the north coast’s largest river, home to the critically endangered Atlantic salmon and a similarly fragile population of freshwater mussels.

The new Naver bridge was one of the projects listed in a report to Wednesday’s meeting of Highland Council’s energy and infrastructure capital programme update.

It was stated that all projects contained within the report were progressing in accordance with the Highland Council budgets identified in the January 2021 capital paper.

The report reads: “The capital programme will make a significant contribution to the economic recovery across Highland communities in the coming year.”

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