A HISTORIC railway bridge is facing a fresh bid to knock it down but villagers are more confident than ever they can win the battle to save it.

Network Rail has now officially appealed against Vale of White Horse District Council's refusal of permission to demolish Steventon railway bridge.

However the company has also now revealed that as well as pursuing the appeal it is also 'looking at new modelling techniques' that could eliminate the need to get rid of the structure.

'PLANNING SATIRE': Villagers vow to keep fighting after Network Rail appeals bridge decision

The rail company had previously insisted the project, which would need a 10-month road closure and cut off a major route into the village, was the only way to electrify the line.

But councillors rejected the plan last summer, against the advice of their planning officers who had said demolition should be approved and ‘regrettably accepted’ the evidence from the rail company.

A Network Rail spokesperson said: “Since permission for us to demolish the Steventon road bridge was refused by Vale of White Horse District Council we have been working on our appeal to the planning inspectorate.

“Concurrently we have been looking at new modelling techniques, which was not available 12 months ago, to see if trains could operate at a slightly reduced speed but still enable the timetable to work, which would allow the bridge to remain in place."

They added: “This analysis should be concluded by the end of the summer; when we will be able to make decisions about our planning appeal."

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Robert Green, vice chairman of Steventon Parish Council, said the 'left hand does not know what the right is doing' at Network Rail and that the parish council was now calling for the appeal to be postponed until the modelling was complete.

He said: "Network Rail have always insisted there was no other way to do it but we believe that was because they weren't looking hard enough and were determined to stick with plan A.

"It isn't that we have some particular attachment to the bridge – it is the effect of having a main route into the high street closed for a year would have on local businesses."

He added the council had approved spending a 'significant percentage' of its annual expenditure on legal fees to do with protecting the bridge, along with concerned local businesses agreeing to contribute, but was more hopeful given the latest development.

Network Rai's appeal to the government Planning Inspectorate was lodged on April 17 and is due to be conducted via written representations.

A spokesperson for the Vale confirmed the appeal was currently due to be heard via written representations on Tuesday, May 28, and said it, too, was calling for a delay in the process.

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They added: "However, the parish council has requested an inquiry and the planning inspector is considering which method of determination is appropriate.

"Network Rail has sent a statement to the inspector suggesting there are other options to be explored over the summer.

"Accordingly, we have has asked the Inspector whether it would be prudent to hold the appeal in abeyance until Network Rail has the results of those options.

"At this time we are proceeding on the basis of written representations with submissions due on Tuesday, May 28."