A historic railway bridge is to become the focal point of an extraordinary showdown between a Norfolk council and National Highways.

A public inquiry is being held to determine the fate of Congham Bridge near King's Lynn, which is at the centre of one of the most controversial planning disputes this county has seen for years.

West Norfolk Council has told National Highways to remove a thousand tonnes of concrete it poured under the crossing after the incident caused uproar among locals and national heritage groups.

Eastern Daily Press: National Highways spent £127,000 to carry out the workNational Highways spent £127,000 to carry out the work (Image: National Highways)

However, the government agency is determined to avoid the costly procedure and has lodged an appeal against this. 

A public inquiry is to be held at the Duke's Head Hotel in King's Lynn from Tuesday, May 21, where officials at the Planning Inspectorate - the government department that presides over planning disputes - will hear evidence from both sides before making a judgement.


In 2021, National Highways spent £127,000 to put the concrete and stones in place and used emergency powers to carry out the work.

It claimed "serious structural issues" made this necessary but critics that include the village parish council and heritage groups have said it could cause further harm to the crossing and that making savings was prioritised over protecting the county's railway heritage.

Eastern Daily Press: The historic bridge in its heyday, when it formed part of the King's Lynn to Fakenham lineThe historic bridge in its heyday, when it formed part of the King's Lynn to Fakenham line (Image: M&GN Trust)

Hundreds of objections were made by people across the country, with local councillors complaining it had "obliterated" an important part of Noroflk's railway history.

Earlier this year WNC's planning committee rejected a retrospective application, which would have left it in place permanently.

The enforcement action gave National Highways until April 10 to remove the infill but it has said this is unrealistic due to the preparatory works it would require.

The agency's appeal has the potential to stop the restoration entirely if the Planning Inspectorate rules against the decision.

Thousands of statements and evidence have been submitted ahead of the inquiry and experts will appear before the inspector at the meeting.

Graeme Bickerdike, of the Heritage Railway Estate Group, believes new information has revealed a "clearer picture" about the circumstances and decision-making that resulted in the bridge's infilling. 


Congham Bridge is one of just six which were built in the 1920s by William Marriott, engineer of the Midland and Great Northern Railway, featuring curved wingwalls.

The railway route connected South Lynn with Fakenham before continuing on to Great Yarmouth.

The line closed in 1959, preceding the Beeching Cuts the following decade, which led to vast sections of the railway network to shut.

But the bridge has remained in use, carrying a quiet country road, St Andrews Lane, across the now-abandoned track.

Eastern Daily Press: The Fakenham Flyer which travelled between South Lynn and FakenhamThe Fakenham Flyer which travelled between South Lynn and Fakenham (Image: Newsquest Library)

A century after it was opened, it had become corroded and began to develop fractures.

This led to National Highways to fill it in with concrete, arguing it had become unsafe and that it was the most cost-effective action it could take.

But heritage groups claim the structural issues were misrepresented and that it should have been repaired to preserve this piece of railway history. 


Congham Bridge is the second railway crossing that National Highways has been ordered to restore and it is one of 51 bridges that have been infilled since 2013 at a cost of £8m.

Engineers have recently completed digging out hundreds of tonnes of concrete from Great Musgrave Bridge in Cumbria after Eden District Council ordered it to restore the Victorian structure last year.