Because of the environmental sensitivity of the site, when it came to replacing a level crossing a bog-standard Network Rail footbridge wouldn’t cut the mustard. So cue the architects.
The footbridge and approach walkways will replace a pedestrian level crossing near the site of the lost village of Tide Mills, East Sussex, allowing safe access to Seaford Beach.
Forming part of the Lower Ouse Valley and situated within the boundaries of the South Downs National Park, the landscape and visual character of the site at Tide Mills is protected by planning policy that makes clear that a standard rail bridge would not have been acceptable. An ‘exemplary, site-specific architectural response’ was required.
By working with the South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) and local interest groups, Network Rail and its designers have developed a bespoke proposal that it says ‘aligns the interests of all parties for the benefit of public access and the safe enjoyment of the site’.
The landscape surrounding the proposed bridge site is largely flat, with far-reaching views across the open floodplain as well as allowing the footbridge to be widely visible. Sloped earth embankments, used for the lower portion of the ramped walkway, have been put in the designs to appear as a natural extension of the landscape, minimising the visible elements of the new structure.
In the planning report that went before the SDNPA’s planning committee, the park authority’s landscape & design officer wrote: “It is a crafted structure; an enhancement of the landscape in a very sensitive location …an experience in which history, culture and landscape can unfold before you.”
Following the committee’s decision to grant permission, Tim Slaney, director of planning at the South Downs National Park Authority, said: “All public bodies such as the SDNPA and Network Rail want to work together, co-operate and engage constructively. In fact we have a legal duty to do so. In this case, the project is sensitively-designed and adds a new dimension to the landscape and cultural heritage of the area. The bridge provides an opportunity to enhance biodiversity through the introduction of appropriate planting on the embankments and improved habitat management. The bridge also enables all to appreciate new views and interpretation of the lost village of Tide Mills, which is an area of significant archaeological interest.”
The main crossing over the railway line will use high, heavy charred timber profiles, like railway sleepers, to frame the view of Tide Mills and out to sea, while screening the railway and the industrial port of Newhaven. Meanwhile, chamfers in the timbers will add textural variation that will change appearance in different lighting and weather conditions.
Rounded beach cobble will be used in the gabion retaining walls. Again, the colour has been chosen to accentuate the local texture of both the Tide Mills ruins and the expansive, shingle Seaford Beach. These stones also provide the further benefit of being an opportunity for habitat creation.
Knight Architects said: “The special landscape of the South Downs coast was the inspiration for our unique design, which combines an innovative, site-specific response with an accessible solution that improves safety at a much-used railway crossing. The new bridge will provide a recreational journey through the landscape which also offers new viewpoints of the coast and the historic lost village of Tide Mills, and we are delighted the South Downs National Park Authority has endorsed our approach and supported the aims of Network Rail.”