All options to replace Rhubarb Bridge will now be considered after a public outcry prompted a re-think from the ruling Conservative administration at Peterborough City Council.
Rhubarb Bridge is due to be demolished and replaced with pedestrian crossings at Junction 18 of the A47/A15, but building a replacement bridge will now be looked at by a cross-party group of councillors.
The decision was made during a debate at last night’s Full Council meeting on the future of Rhubarb Bridge which was called following a successful petition by resident Nyree Ambarchian.
She told councillors: “More than 2,000 people of all ages use the bridge every day, more than 6,000 people have taken the time to sign petitions calling for a bridge at this junction to remain – people care.
“There have been various reasons given for why these at grade crossings are necessary. None of these make any sense to me. Segregating different road users is essential at major junctions like Rhubarb to keep people safe, ensure convenience and stop delays.
“I realise it’s not easy being a local councillor or council officer at the moment. Decisions are hard, budgets are tight and often you’re between a rock and a hard place.
“But if we’re not careful the knock-on effect of this decision will adversely affect thousands and thousands of people in Peterborough now and in the future.”
The council has said a new bridge could cost up to £30 million, but deputy leader Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald told members: “It’s £250,000 to actually cost fully a new bridge.
“Estimates are somewhere between £5-6 million in addition to five and a half million pounds that will still happen for the at grade junctions. It’s a lot of money and there’s no magic money tree.”
Ms Ambarchian told the Council Chamber she was aware of a meeting where the Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough James Palmer said he’d be willing to consider putting £5 million towards a new bridge to replace Rhubarb.
However, Cllr Fitzgerald said this was not the case. He later told the Peterborough Telegraph the mayor said he may be able to find money if the scheme is viable.
The meeting began with the Conservatives calling for the decision to go ahead with pedestrian crossings to be referred back to the cabinet for reconsideration, while Labour and the Liberal Democrats went further by demanding the formation of a cross-party working group to seek funding to repair or replace Rhubarb Bridge.
Then, during the meeting, Cllr leader Cllr John Holdich offered to agree to the working group, but this was rejected by Labour and the Lib Dems.
Labour group leader Cllr Ed Murphy said he could not agree to the working group unless there was a full evaluation of safety options.
His Lib Dem counterpart Cllr Nick Sandford said he wanted the at grade crossing option taken off the table.
Both said they did not trust the Tories.
In the end a recommendation for the cabinet to set up the working group, which will look at schemes which prioritise cyclists and pedestrians, was approved but only on the back of the votes of the Conservatives.
The council has already approved a £5.5 million contract with Skanska to carry out a scheme to replace Rhubarb Bridge which the authority says is coming to the end of its life.
The proposed works are for a series of Toucan crossings to be installed at the roundabout separating Lincoln Road (by Brotherhood Retail Park) and Bourges Boulevard, including on the A47 slip roads, with extra lanes put in for motorists.
A decision to hand the contract to Skanska was announced on the same day as a consultation on the proposed crossings scheme began, prompting a backlash.
Speaking during last night’s debate, Cllr Sandford said he was “shocked by the incompetent omnishambles of a consultation.” He said it showed a “cynical disregard for people’s views.”
Cllr Darren Fower, sitting with his new Labour colleagues for the first time after leaving the Liberal Democrats, said the Conservative administration had been caught with their “trousers by their ankles.”
He added that there was a “growing list of reasons why people outside the city boundaries refer to us as Pottyborough.”
Cabinet member for resources Cllr David Seaton said the demolition of the bridge had been publicised twice before and consulted on, including in the city’s Local Transport Plan. He added: “Scrutiny met to review the full plan. I believe you chaired the meeting Cllr Sandford. Maybe that’s why it was an omnishambles.”
Cllr Richard Ferris, Labour member, said: “It’s only human nature, particularly among younger people, to be impatient. You can see a situation where you will have school children deciding to run across and take a chance.”
He described the proposed scheme as “ludicrous” and “unsafe.”
But Cllr Fitzgerald defended the council’s officers, responding: “I’m not prepared to rubbish people’s professional opinion about crossings. They would not put them forward if they were not safe and practical.”
Cllr Holdich added: “There seems to be a lot of traffic engineers tonight. I’m not sure if they are all qualified.”
Cllr Angus Ellis said: “An at level crossing across an extremely busy road would be a nightmare, not just for pedestrians but drivers as well.”
His Labour colleague Cllr Ansar Ali said the council was paying “lip service” to being an environmental city.
Cllr Peter Hiller, the cabinet member responsible for the Rhubarb Bridge scheme, said: “I have listened to the debate and given great consideration to this petition and the views expressed through the public. In light of this I think it’s appropriate for cabinet to reconsider this issue, especially as we are about to embark on the combined authority transport plan.”