Defeat for campaigners in bid to halt Rhubarb Bridge contract after heated Peterborough City Council meeting

Rhubarb bridge EMN-170815-173328009
Rhubarb bridge EMN-170815-173328009
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An expletive-filled tirade and comparisons to Grenfell Tower were part of a lively debate as the future of Rhubarb Bridge was hammered out for two hours on Tuesday.

But efforts to overturn a contract for a £5.5 million scheme to replace the bridge were defeated on party lines with the Conservatives outvoting the opposition by six votes to five.

The biggest drama of the evening came when a member of the public launched a tirade of swear words at cabinet member Cllr Peter Hiller before storming out.

Cllr Kim Aitken was also criticised for saying a failure to demolish Rhubarb Bridge now could lead to disaster.

She said: “My concern is we hear on the news day-in day-out how there are tragedies happening because of various things that haven’t happened. Councils not doing this, councils not doing that. Grenfell Towers.

“My concern would be what if something happens to this bridge in the time you would like to use for making a decision with regards to this bridge?” Liberal Democrat group leader Cllr Nick Sandford said comparing Rhubarb Bridge to Grenfell was “quite deplorable.”

Rhubarb bridge EMN-170815-173431009

Rhubarb bridge EMN-170815-173431009

The Peterborough City Council scrutiny meeting was held to decide whether to uphold a call-in on the awarding of a contract for the £5.5 million works to Skanska.

If the call-in had succeeded Cllr Hiller would have had to reconsider whether to award the contract.

The proposals currently being consulted on by Peterborough City Council are for 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.

However, after a public outcry the council is now looking to see if it can use the money allocated for the scheme to instead repair the bridge so it can remain in place for a few more years, allowing for time to seek funding for a direct replacement.

Rhubarb Bridge

Rhubarb Bridge

That process will continue despite the call-in failing.

Cllr Hiller defended the decision to agree to the Skanska contract on the same day the consultation began, arguing that the scheme had already been approved by councillors in last year’s Local Transport Plan and the 2017-18 budget, which was agreed in March.

He said: “My decision was to award the contract to Skanska for a scheme already approved.

“I’m genuinely puzzled to the basis around a lot of the rhetoric around this call-in.”

He added that even if the bridge was replaced there would need to be crossings put in while works were ongoing.

And he dismissed safety concerns by stating that at a similar crossing at Bourges Boulevard - separating Bridge Street and Lower Bridge Street - nobody had been “ploughed into” from his memory.

Cllr Nick Sandford, who with Cllrs Darren Fower and Angus Ellis had applied for the call-in, told members: “Let’s treat people as intelligent human beings. Let’s bring all the facts before them and then let’s make a decision.”

Cllr Ellis said Cllr Hiller’s decision was not “fair and transparent,” while Cllr Ed Murphy, Labour group leader, added: “We need more information. The scrutiny committee needs a report to come back with some options.”

Nyree Ambarchian, whose petition to save Rhubarb Bridge has been signed more than 5,000 times, questioned the £20-30 million cost quoted by the council to replace it with another bridge.

She said: “At the information event officers said they’d been briefed to get rid of the bridge rather than think about the best possible options.

“At its best this scheme will put people off travelling by bike and foot. At its worst it puts people in danger.”

Committee member Cllr June Bull said: “This has been subject to full public consultation and passed by relevant all party scrutiny meetings and by full council. So I’m failing to see what has not been transparent and what is not fair.”

But Labour member Richard Ferris said a failure to approve the call-in would be the “death of the pretence about the council being committed to sustainable transport.”

Simon Machen, council corporate director for growth and regeneration, said the cost of funding a new bridge would be the same as two or three primary schools. He added that no appraisal of options other than the current scheme had been prepared because no scrutiny committee had ever asked for one.