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Great Musgrave: infilled bridge a 'sad reflection' on state of the industry

10 August 2021

ICE Fellow Judith Sykes said the infilling of a Victorian bridge with concrete emphasises the need for design principles to be part of a project's whole lifecycle.

Great Musgrave: infilled bridge a 'sad reflection' on state of the industry

ICE Fellow Judith Sykes has described the infilling of a Victorian bridge in Cumbria as "shocking" and a "sad reflection" on the state of the industry.

The Great Musgrave Bridge was infilled with hundreds of tonnes of concrete to "prevent further deterioration of the bridge from occurring and remove the associated risk of structural collapse”, according to the government’s roads body, Highways England. The situation emphasised the timeliness of ICE's Design Report, launched last month.

“The recent images of the infilling of the arches in Cumbria are shocking,” said Judith Sykes, director of Expedition Engineering and member of ICE's 2020 State of the Nation steering group for the net-zero emissions report.

"With all the advances in technology and engineering practice [since the bridge was built 159 years ago], the approach taken is a sad reflection on our industry. For so many reasons – carbon, waste, visual impact, ecology, future proofing – infilling with concrete is not the answer.

"We have to ask how the culture and practice of our sector enabled such an unthinking approach to repair of historic infrastructure," said Sykes.

The bridge was as an “exemplar” of sustainable development and craftsmanship, said Sykes, being "well-designed and beautifully integrated" within the Cumbrian landscape.

Why whole-life design must be embedded

The bridge being infilled is an example of why design needs to be embedded throughout a project’s whole life, including at the repair and maintenance stages, Sykes said.

Sykes was appointed to The National Infrastructure Commission's (NIC) Design Group in 2019, which launched the Design Principles the same year to raise the level of understanding of how design and design thinking can create value, be climate responsive, enhance the lives of people and contribute to sense of place.

ICE and the NIC recently conducted a survey to better understand how the civil engineering culture can deliver the design principles.

One of the key findings of the research was the need for business models that support better design outcomes. It also highlighted how much more work needs to be done to raise the profile of design at all stages of the project lifecycle.

Sykes said: “The repair and maintenance of our infrastructure assets will be critical to the UK’s mission to be net zero by 2050. Our mission is that all infrastructure companies and their supply chains will adopt the design principles and embed within business practice.”

“With the NIC’s call for design champions to be part of all projects from the end of the year, hopefully we will see an end to such disappointing solutions being implemented,” she added.

  • Anh Nguyen, digital content lead at ICE