Shaz Nawaz: Rhubarb Bridge U-turn is a victory for Peterborough campaigners

Traffic near Rhubarb Bridge
Traffic near Rhubarb Bridge

Last week, I was away at the Labour Party conference. Thanks to the live reporting via social media provided by the Peterborough Telegraph, the Labour team, both at conference and not, was able to keep track of what was going on at the most recent council cabinet meeting, writes Shaz Nawaz.

The most prominent item from the meeting was plans for the future of the Rhubarb Bridge.

Apparently, the council has taken the decision not to demolish it, rather, it will extend its life for a further 10 years.

Money allocated for its demolition will be diverted to fixing it. Traffic lights will also be repaired.

Councillor Allen reportedly noted that the bridge is “strangely loved by many”.

Furthermore, £250,000 was allocated from Cambridgeshire & Peterborough’s combined authority to study the bridge, confirming that this extension could take place.

So that’s that, then. The bridge is saved, at least for another decade, and life carries on.

I have to credit the campaigners who worked so hard and strenuously to get the council to change its mind: had they not done so, the demolition would likely have gone ahead and cost the taxpayer a lot more.

I am very glad that we live in a society where people feel empowered to raise their voices and don’t hesitate to stand in front of a city council and cry “halt” when necessary; I am very concerned that it took so much pressure from the public to get the council to alter course.

Let’s recap: this administration was ready to green light destroying the Rhubarb Bridge on the basis of incomplete evidence.

If the public hadn’t made them look at the issue again, we would have ended up paying a great deal of money for a solution which the community had rightly identified as being insufficient for the city’s needs, and indeed dangerous.

It’s the Labour Group’s intention to create a more democratic Peterborough; this means actively listening to your concerns.

This is why we do “street surgeries” in Park Ward and elsewhere; we go out and directly engage with you.

Had the council been talking with residents, it might have had a clearer idea about how to approach the issue of maintaining Rhubarb Bridge. Time, effort and money would have been saved as a consequence.

And as we are all paying for the council out of our taxes, it would have been saving our money as well as our time.

The present administration has been in office for 18 years. The detritus of history accumulates like a layer of dust. Power becomes an assumed fact.

It often takes a sharp shock to get them to listen, rather than them assuming that listening and consulting is the essence of democratic government.

We’ve not forgotten this in the Labour Group; provided that the voters choose us to run the city after next May, this is something we will never forget as we go forward.

The Opposing View column is written by councillor Shaz Nawaz, Labour group leader on Peterborough City council.

Related: Major repairs for Peterborough’s Rhubarb Bridge 12 months after being earmarked for demolition, 31 August