Crabbing championship bridge may be set to close

A familiar seaside landmark in north Suffolk popular with crabbers faces demolition if no-one can be found to take on responsibility for its upkeep.

Officials say the 50-year-old bridge at Walberswick, near Southwold is unsafe, no longer of use, and has become a hazardous liability – but locals hope a custodian will come forward in the next 60 days to save it from the bulldozers.

The Environment Agency built the bridge over the Dunwich River in the 1960s to allow vehicles to access the beach for sea defence work.

Since then it has been used regularly by crabbers and tourists but gradually less often by the agency, which has offered to restore the bridge to its original state for anyone willing to take it on.

David Webb, Walberswick Parish Council chairman, said the Common Lands Charity, of which he is a trustee, was approached to assume ownership of the bridge but could not afford its long-term maintenance.

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Mr Webb said: 'Admittedly, the condition of the bridge is not very good and it is actually outside the parish council's patch, but it is well used.'

Mr Webb, who also sits on the Walberswick Crabbing Committee, stressed that the safety of the bridge had no influence on the cancellation this year's British Open Crabbing Championships but that untimely tides and an increasing volume of competitors crabbing from the river banks were the main reasons behind the decision.

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'There is no problem with safety at all,' he claimed. 'Light vehicles can get across comfortably.

'It would be a great shame and a big loss during the summer if the bridge went.'

A padlocked gate restricts access to the bridge and original planning permission did not allow anyone but the Environment Agency to use it. However, many locals and tourists continue to use it as a walkway. Gary Watson, Coastal Engineer for the Environment Agency, said: 'The bridge is very old and has not been used for many years.

'It was only really built for us to gain access to the beach but it fails current health and safety standards and we can now access the beach from another bridge nearby. 'We have written to both the parish and district council to give them the option of taking it on if they have use for it.'

The Environment Agency has given 60 days for the parish council and district council to respond with suggestions for the future of the bridge.

If someone is found to take on the responsibility, the Agency will shore up the sides and return the bridge to its original condition. If not, the bridge will be removed altogether.

Mr Watson added: 'We are aware of its popularity with tourists and the annual crab fishing championship.'

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