Farnham's Brightwells Yard development could open next spring without a promised cyclist and pedestrian bridge connecting the development to Borelli Walk and onwards to the station.

A deadlock has arisen in talks between developer Crest Nicholson, Surrey County Council which is building out a new cycle and walking network in Farnham, and landowner Waverley Borough Council.

Surrey, which is also investing almost £60 million in the commercial element of Brightwells, wants Crest to build a four-metre wide bridge to safely accommodate cyclists and pedestrians, in line with new government regulations.

But Crest is refusing to budge – instead pressing ahead with plans to build out the 2.5m-wide bridge it gained planning permission for a decade ago. This would only accommodate pedestrians – forcing Brightwells cyclists on a longer detour.

The developer’s plans also propose building the bridge after the ‘practical completion’ of Brightwells Yard – raising the prospect of no bridge being in place when the development opens in early 2024.

Surrey’s highways department has objected to Crest’s plans, which must now be agreed by Waverley Borough Council as the local planning authority.

The long-running saga of Brightwells' bridges

In 2016, Brightwells Yard developer Crest Nicholson received planning permission to build a new 2.5 metre footbridge over the River Wey once its A31 construction access bridge had been removed.

Surrey County Council now wants Crest to build a wider 4m bridge, to allow pedestrians and cyclists to safely cross the bridge as part of its cycle and walking infrastructure plans for the town.

But the construction giant fears a new bridge application could delay the opening of its development – and recently indicated its intention to build the 2.5m bridge as originally planned.

In an effort to break this impasse, a Farnham Town Council working group proposed its own planning application for a four-metre bridge using the same documents provided by Crest, albeit with a revised drawing.

This, it was hoped, would test whether the proposed four-metre bridge would be acceptable and determine the additional costs of a wider bridge.

But at a full meeting of the town council last Thursday, councillors expressed reservations about wading into an already-complex debate between Crest Nicholson, Surrey County Council and Waverley Borough Council, and voted down the motion; eight votes against, three for and three abstentions.

Farnham Residents leader, Councillor John Ward, has however indicated Surrey may soon pick up the mantle and submit its own alternative plan.

The Farnham Residents position

In a letter to the Herald, Cllr Ward said: "There has been considerable discussion amongst members of the Farnham Residents Group, both privately and in public, about the proposed Brightwells Yard bridge over the river Wey and how to achieve the optimum structure.

"There have also been a number of communications between various parties on this subject and so I want to make clear the overriding wishes of our Group of independent thinkers.

"We thoroughly support improving the facilities for free and safe movement of both pedestrians and cyclists within Farnham as well as having cycling and walking connections to the surrounding areas. 

"Currently Crest Nicholson have planning permission and a contract to build a 2.5 metre-wide bridge, agreed long before the Farnham Residents became a strong political force, and this is what they intend to construct, unless they can be persuaded otherwise.

"Since this planning permission was granted, policies and priorities have changed, including a desire for more active travel and more stringent Department of Transport guidance, such that both Surrey County Council (SCC) and Waverley Borough Council (WBC) now favour a four metre-wide bridge. This will allow pedestrians and cyclists to cross together safely, hopefully also benefiting the Brightwells Yard development that we have inherited, a concept that we support.

"The rationale at the recent Farnham Town Council meeting for airing the idea of putting in a planning application was an attempt to show support for, and speed up, this process. However, it appears that Surrey County Council has already agreed to consider submitting a planning application (normally done by either the developer or the funding organisation) for such a 4m-wide bridge, dependent upon the cost of construction and their obtaining sufficient funding.

"I understand that Surrey are urgently working on specifications and costs of  the wider bridge, including the more attractive, slightly arched design, strongly favoured by many in Farnham as more suitable for the Town. 

"Providing the additional costs of such a bridge are reasonable, I hope that Surrey, Waverley and Farnham councils can provide some additional funding such that we can come to an agreement with Crest Nicholson that will be to all our benefits."