Major campaign victory as council makes U-turn over Peterborough's Rhubarb Bridge
Campaigners have won a major victory after the leader of Peterborough City Council promised to make sure Rhubarb Bridge is replaced by another bridge.
After months of public pressure and lobbying, Cllr John Holdich said he was giving a guarantee that while he was leader pedestrians and cyclists will have a bridge to cross at Junction 17 of the A47/A15, near Brotherhood Shopping Park.
The decision marks a U-turn for the council which had previously insisted that it would cost up to £30 million to replace the bridge - money which it said was not available due to its large deficit.
The authority had been planning to knock down the bridge - which it said was near the end of its life - and replace it with pedestrian crossings at the A47/A15 junction, with extra lanes for motorists.
But Cllr Holdich said a new survey showed making repairs to the bridge could see it survive for several more years, giving the council time to find the funding for a replacement.
He told the Peterborough Telegraph: “I have given a guarantee there will be a bridge there.
“We’ve got a survey going on with the bridge now. The indications I’m getting - although I’ve not seen anything in writing - is that it can be repaired to last a while longer.
“If we get the bridge to last five to 10 years we’ve got plenty of time to get money for a brand new bridge.”
A £5.5 million scheme to demolish Rhubarb Bridge and force pedestrians and cyclists to share the road with motorists was approved by councillors in the Local Transport Plan and the 2017-18 budget.
But there was huge criticism when full details of the project were revealed in August, prompting a campaign to save the bridge which led to special debates at the council.
Cllr Holdich said he had taken “personal responsibility” for Rhubarb Bridge’s future after there was an “outcry about it,” and that knocking down the bridge had been recommended by an officer as it needed long-term repairs.
He said: “It’s been the council’s policy since 2008 and there has been plenty of time for members of all parties to do something about it.”
Asked if the council had made any mistakes, he replied: “That’s what we go to consultation for.
“We’ve listened and we’re taking action.”
The commitment to fund a replacement bridge was made from Cllr Holdich to campaigner Haq Nawaz who has been lobbying him in private after gathering evidence on how popular Rhubarb is for pedestrians and cyclists.
Mr Nawaz, of Burma Road, who has been involved in local campaigns such as trying to save Parnwell Medical Centre, said: “Rhubarb Bridge is an important amenity and I just couldn’t sit back and let something like this happen.
“I could not understand replacing it with pedestrian crossings at busy dual carriageways.”
Mr Nawaz said he was “delighted and grateful” for the promise of a new bridge, and that his “discreet approach” had paid dividends.
Cllr Holdich confirmed that the pedestrian crossings and extra lanes will still be installed as the council has received funding for them, while a £250,000 feasibility study, funded by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, which will look at potential replacement bridges, will begin next year.
A council working group will then look at the costings.
Labour member Cllr Richard Ferris welcomed the news about a replacement bridge and praised Mr Nawaz, campaigner Nyree Ambarchian, as well as Sustrans and the Peterborough Cycle Forum.
But he said he “did not get the logic” of going ahead with the pedestrian crossings, adding: “Some people will take a chance with them. I do not get the idea to mix motorists, pedestrians and cyclists.
Cllr Ferris also warned that while he took Cllr Holdich by his word, he would be “all over it” to make sure he kept it.
Structural and civil engineers met earlier this month to discuss the future of Rhubarb Bridge. Following the meeting, the Save Rhubarb Bridge campaign said the expert consensus was that only the bridge’s pillars needed repairs, but that this could be done “with relatively little cost and disruption.”
It added: “We think the existing structure is fit for the future as long as repairs to the uprights are carried out. It is our belief that the repairs can be carried out without disruption to users and there is no need for the at-grade crossings”.