Standing at 111 ft tall and made of more than 20 million bricks, Stockport’s viaduct is without doubt the town’s most famous landmark.
Built in 1840, the historic 27-arch structure is a great feat of Victorian engineering – and one of which Stopfordians are rightfully proud.
But concerns are mounting over its current limestone-stained, weed-infested appearance.
It was last cleaned from top to bottom some 30 years ago at a cost of £3m.
And while Network Rail bosses say there is £1m to spend on the viaduct between now and 2024, the cost of sorting out drainage and other issues today is thought to be closer to £20m.
Edgeley councillor Matt Wynne has launched a campaign to have the Grade II* listed properly spruced up.
With the town centre in the midst of a huge £1bn regeneration – including plans for 3,500 new homes – Coun Wynne says it can’t come soon enough.
Coun Wynne – who also sits on the Greater Manchester Transport Committee – is urging rail bosses to put a plan in place to address the viaduct’s long-standing issues.
The Edgeley councillor said: “Our concern is that Network Rail are coming back and saying it’s just cosmetic, it just needs a few weeds cutting off and giving the brickwork a clean.
“It’s clearly not a cosmetic issue, it’s a fundamental issue with the viaduct.
“We’re not concerned with the structure, but it just comes back to the point that it’s a Grade II*-listed structure and it looks knackered.”
He added: “I don’t think £1m is going to be enough to sort out the damage issues. It’s in the public interest to put their hands in their pocket and get this sorted once and for all, or we are going to be back here in a couple of years with more cost to the taxpayer.”
“We need a plan. I understand the West Coast Mainline may need to shut for a bit, but it needs sorting. It’s not a cosmetic issue. it’s to do with what’s going on inside of the viaduct.
And while Coun Wynne fears the state of the viaduct could undermine the town’s ambitions, he says it is also a matter of civic pride and heritage.
“It’s the symbol of the town,” he said.
“It means a lot to the citizens of the borough. People care about it and people think of it fondly. They don’t like to see it being neglected.”
Rail bosses say they do not have an endless pot of money – and safety has to be its number one priority.
Coun Wynne accepts budgets aren’t limitless – but says Network Rail also has a duty as the custodian of the viaduct.
“Thousands of people look at the viaduct every day. It’s the gateway into Cheshire and Lancashire and the gateway to our town.
“It can be quite unsavoury down there because of all the noise and activity. Then you have to look at a viaduct that looks like it’s slowly rotting away. It all fits into what we want the town centre to look like for the next decade and the 21st century.”
Network Rail says it carries out vital maintenance every year to ensure is safe for the trains that travel on it and the motorists and pedestrians below.
Chris Pye, infrastructure manager for the network’s North West route, said: “At 180 years old it is not unusual for such an impressive piece of Victorian engineering to be showing signs of its age. So, more than £1m is being invested to improve brickwork and clear weeds from the structure between now and 2024.”
“Getting the structure looking ‘as good as new’ would mean completely closing the West Coast main line and the M60 below causing major disruption to both passengers, motorway traffic and people living and working in Stockport itself.
“To justify that level of disruption and investment we would only close the viaduct for major track or signalling upgrades which are not needed in the near future.”
Coun David Meller – the council’s economy and regeneration chief, is set to meet with Network Rail bosses in the New Year.
As well as the £530m regeneration plan for Stockport station, he will also be raising the issue of the viaduct.
Coun Meller says that ‘getting rid of the limestone stains and getting it looking decent again’ is the short-term priority.
But in the longer term, he agrees with Coun Wynne that a plan needs to be put in place to ensure the problem doesn’t keep happening.
This is likely to involve extensive work to address the drainage issues that are causing the limestone staining.
Coun Meller says Network Rail had not previous told the council about the £1m pot for repairs.
“No one has come to us to tell us this, so there’s no plan for how this money is to be spent between now and 2024,” he said.
“I don’t know how far £1m will stretch. It’s a start – I’m not poo-pooing it, but I would need to see how far that would stretch when it’s spent and consider the longer-term work that has needed to take place for some time now.
“But I am grateful to Network Rail for putting some money aside to some work, it’s a start.”
Meanwhile the town’s MP Navendu Mishra has also called on Network Rail to do more.
He said: “Stockport viaduct is an iconic landmark and holds a special place in the heart of all Stopfordians.
“However, more than 30 years since it was last cleaned, the Grade II-listed structure is long overdue extensive cleaning and maintenance to ensure it’s finally returned to its former glory.
“So it’s high time that Network Rail – who’ve already made us wait years – puts its hand in its pocket and finally cleans up our beautiful viaduct so that it can be enjoyed for generations to come.”
Stockport viaduct was completed in 1840 and opened to the public in 1842 – at the time it comprised the oft-quoted figure of 11 million bricks.
However it was widened in 1888 to accommodate four tracks instead of two.
Kevin Dranfield, author of Stockport Viaduct: So Good They Built it Twice, says the correct number of bricks is actually 21 million.
Mr Dranfied is a retired engineer who worked for Network Rail/British Rail for 30 years. He is also a member of Stockport Heritage Trust.
Stockport viaduct remains one of the largest brick structures in the world.