MORE than 4,000 people have signed a petition opposing the destruction of a historic bridge at the heart of a picturesque village.

Essex County Council wants to take down the 200-year-old road bridge in Finchingfield and replace it with a modern structure.

Villagers fear the loss of the "ancient" bridge will mean more lorries travelling through the village and damage the local economy, which relies heavily on tourism.

Campaigners have now sent a 4,000-name petition to MP James Cleverly, urging him to tell County Hall to ditch the plans, or for the decision to be made at government level.

A bid is also being made to give Finchingfield UNESCO World Heritage status. It would give the village the same legal protection as sites such as Stonehenge, the Taj Mahal and Machu Piccu.

Campaigner Michael Staines said: "This application is too important to be decided by County Hall alone marking their own homework because it presents an unacceptable threat to Finchingfield’s social cohesiveness, unique authentic heritage and rural economy reliant on tourism.

"We urge Essex Highways to withdraw this plan and instead consider how Finchingfield can be conserved and enhanced including retaining the existing bridge central to the vitality of the village and surrounding areas.

"We are keen to explore UNESCO World Heritage listing for Finchingfield in the next application phase and suggest any alternative plans for the bridge fully considers this."

The petition says: "The single option proposed to demolish the ancient bridge in favour of a 30 per cent wider and 40-tonne new bridge which offers no benefits to residents and will damage Finchingfield's historic setting and surrounding countryside for ever by enabling heavier more frequent HGV through traffic."

It calls on Mr Cleverly to "stop Essex County Council rushing through this application to demolish and replace the bridge", adding: "This plan will cause significant temporary, permanent and ongoing harm from the HGVs enabled to use this inappropriate route and offers no benefit to, and will damage, Britain's tourist sector, local social, culture economy and environment, and will negate years of careful conservation and irreparably reduce the contribution of Finchingfield to the national, regional and local heritage environment and unique character of this area."

The county council says the bridge, over Finchingfield Brook, is "weak and deteriorating", and needs replacing.

It says the new bridge would retain the same look and feel, to avoid impacting on the picturesque village.