The controversy over replacement of Rhubarb Bridge came to a head last week, when some Lib Dem and Labour councillors, including myself, tried to get the decision by Tory cabinet member, Peter Hiller, called in and referred back to him for further consideration.
The six Conservative members on the committee voted to reject our call-in request, even though all five opposition members (including the Independent) voted for it.
What depresses me most, is the way the council has treated members of the public in considering this issue. The bridge stands at the junction of the A47 (Soke Parkway) and the A15 (Lincoln Road). The council has been talking about replacing the bridge for at least five years, probably longer. There are big issues with the current bridge: it needs repairs which we are told would be very costly. And it’s not exactly pleasant walking up there late at night, someone was murdered on the bridge about 10 years ago. But there is a lot of support in the Walton area, and across the city, for replacing the bridge with some other structure that enables pedestrians and cyclists to be kept away from the very large volumes of traffic, including heavy goods vehicles, that use this junction.
So, I have said to council officers repeatedly and over many years: before you replace the bridge, please do proper public consultation, talking to people and asking their views on a range of options. I always suspected that wouldn’t happen and I was proved right when in August this year, they published a scheme for replacing the bridge with pedestrian crossings and Cllr Hiller signed a notice awarding the contract on the day the so called public meeting was taking place. And, when challenged, Cllr Hiller claimed that the decision was actually taken 18 months ago when the Local Transport Plan was published: a document of several hundred pages on which there was no public consultation on the detail, but presumably people were expected to wade through it to find the two or three lines which refer to Rhubarb Bridge.
Now, of course, we have had a 5,000 signature petition. The council has suddenly realised the strength of public opinion, and they are rapidly changing their tone.
Now, it seems that money may be found to repair the current bridge and extend its life, even though we were told this would be financially ruinous only a few weeks ago.
People are angry about a lot of aspects of the proposed scheme, not least the safety of forcing people to cross busy lanes of traffic, and being forced to walk in close proximity to vehicles churning out toxic gases and fumes.
The council says this scheme (which also includes adding extra lanes to the junction) is essential for the growth of the city.
But, their own Local Transport Plan says that in all matters of transport planning, pedestrians and cyclists should be put first, not motor vehicles.
If they push ahead with this scheme, they are ignoring their own transport policy but also showing contempt for the views of thousands of the local residents whom they are supposed to be serving.