Work to start on Union Chain Bridge restoration



The restoration of the world-famous 200-year-old Union Chain Bridge has taken a big step forward with the appointment of the main works contractor. 

Spencer Group will carry out a major programme of repairs on the oldest traffic carrying chain suspension bridge in the world. The British company specialises in large engineering projects ranging from the design and build of green power stations, work across the UK rail network and construction and maintenance of complex suspension bridges.

The bridge – which has provided a key transport link between Scotland and England for 200 years - received £3.14million from The National Lottery Heritage Fund in September 2019.

Coronavirus restrictions meant the main works contract has been delayed but with restrictions now being relaxed, Spencer Group can now start on site in August, with social distancing and additional hygiene measures being followed by the contractor and project team. 

The successful bid to The National Lottery Heritage Fund included a comprehensive programme of community engagement and education activities which will also take place to celebrate and explore the bridge’s historical and engineering importance, and aims to boost local tourism along the River Tweed corridor.

The ambitious funding bid was put together by Northumberland County Council, Scottish Borders Council, Museums Northumberland and community group Friends of the Union Chain Bridge, following serious concerns about the condition of the famous structure.

Both councils have committed match funding totalling £5.7m towards the £10.5m scheme, with other fundraising activities continuing to be progressed by the Friends of Union Chain Bridge in support of the project.

Gary Thornton, Managing Director of Spencer Group, said: “We’re delighted and honoured to have been selected to carry out such an important project and to have been given the responsibility to restore this precious structure for future generations.

“We appreciate fully the historical significance of the Union Chain Bridge and will be dedicated to giving it a new lease of life, while being meticulous in our work to retain its heritage.”

David Renwick, Director, England, North, The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “We’re delighted to hear that work on the iconic structure that is the Union Chain Bridge, is about to begin, including that of strengthening connections between communities in Northumberland and the Scottish Borders. 

“With two of the cross-border local authorities involved in Borderlands Inclusive Growth Deal – Northumberland County Council and Scottish Borders Council – working together on this wonderful heritage scheme to improve transport links and connectivity for the area extending across the Scotland-England border, we hope to see a positive economic impact on the area in the very near future.”

Northumberland County Councillor Glen Sanderson said: “This is a truly great project which must be the largest and most ambitious cross border and cross council joint endeavour ever. 

It’s particularly good to be working with the Friends group along with other organisations for whose support and expertise we are most grateful.”

Scottish Borders Councillor Gordon Edgar said: “This is another hugely positive step forward for such an important project.

“We’re now looking forward to work starting as the next chapter in the Union Chain Bridge’s unique history gets underway.”

Rowan Brown from Museums Northumberland said: “We're looking forward to working with Spencer Group, as well as our ever-growing number of Project Partners, to deliver new community resources, engaging activities, shared learning opportunities and to celebrate our incredible Bridge. 

“We are truly grateful to our generous funders and partners for the flexibility, diligence and support they have demonstrated throughout this period of coronavirus-readjustment.”

Robbie Hunter from Friends of the Union Chain Bridge said: “I am delighted that Spencer Group have been announced as the principal contractor for the restoration of the Union Chain Bridge. 

“It is wonderful news that the works will start in the next few days, as we prepare to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the opening of the bridge on the 26th July. This is the culmination of eight years of lobbying by the Friends to ensure that the world’s oldest vehicular suspension bridge and a much loved local landmark was not lost. 

“I would like to thank all those involved in the project to date including NCC, SBC and Museums Northumberland for all their hard work, particularly recently during these challenging times.”

Built in 1820 by Captain Samuel Brown, the Union Chain Bridge is the oldest operational suspension bridge in the world still carrying vehicles.

As well as completely restoring the historic structure, the project team has also developed interpretation proposals and a comprehensive programme of community engagement and education activities. 

This programme is designed to celebrate and explore the bridge’s historical and engineering importance and provide learning opportunities to inspire a new generation to consider a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.