A MAJOR development of thousands of new homes has been thrown into doubt after 'serious concerns' were raised over plans to build a multi-million pound road bridge.

The proposed £100m bridge across the Thames would link Didcot to Culham, where up to 3,500 homes are planned in the next 15 years.

But until the bridge is built the number of new homes in Culham cannot exceed 750 – 2,750 less than the target.

Now Historic England has potentially scuppered the scheme because both the possible routes for roads leading to the bridge infringe on areas of historical importance.

The first, western, option includes parts of an area that was previously either an Iron Age or Roman settlement site near the river.

The second, eastern, route would cross two ‘scheduled monuments’.

The Round Barrow cemetery at Fullamoor Plantation, where evidence of Bronze Age burials has been found, and the site of a Roman town near Long Wittenham are both in the path of the road.

Martin Small, Historic England’s principal adviser in the South East, said in a letter to South Oxfordshire District Council: “Either route would be likely to cause us serious concerns and we therefore object.

“Any development on a scheduled monument requires scheduled monument consent and as a rule we would discourage any development that will disturb the ground on that monument.”

Areas are granted ‘scheduled’ status by the Culture Secretary because of their rarity or because a large amount of archaeological remains survive.

A spokesperson for Historic England said that the objection has only been made 'in principle' at this stage and whether or not the organisation maintains it will depend on further detail about the size and impact of the road.

The district council views the project as a key part of its local plan – a blueprint for the development of the district – that was unveiled earlier this year.

Up to 20,000 new jobs, 20,000 new houses and 50,000 new residents are anticipated in the area by 2033, putting pressure on the existing highway and public transport systems.

A separate project to build a northern perimeter road in Didcot received a £6.2million funding boost from the Government last week.

Holly Jones, planning policy manager at the district council, said that the Historic England response was one of thousands received since the launch of the plan and will help to shape a final version to be released later this year.

Jones stressed that the plan only outlines 'options for development, none of which have been finalised.'

She continued: “The proposal is to safeguard land for a possible new road bridge over the River Thames near Culham Science Centre, but the exact scheme location has yet to be decided.

“We are aware of the surrounding location’s historic significance and are very mindful of Historic England’s response to the latest stage of consultation in relation to the proposed safeguarding of land for the proposed crossing.

“We are continuing to work with Oxfordshire County Council and other partner agencies to see how the safeguarded area can be developed.

“The views of Historic England and other key stakeholders will be fed into the next stage of the local plan and as soon as further proposals for the safeguarded area have been developed, we will be proactively engaging with them on this matter.”

Campaigners from the Bachport group, who oppose plans to build a huge quarry between Didcot and Abingdon, say that the latest developments could cause further problems for this project as well.

Spokesperson for Bachport, Giles Baxter, said: “The only reason the road is being planned along these routes is because it has to avoid the quarry.

“There are many reasons why a quarry should not be built there and this is another one.

“There’s a need for joined up thinking in planning the development of such an important site as the Culham Science Centre.

We are calling for plans for the quarry to be suspended whilst the problems with the road route are resolved.”