This is a guest post by Daniel Dewhurst, a former Preston City Councillor and resident of Avenham.Advertisement
It’s been more than two years since the Old Tram Bridge was closed over safety fears. Yet, despite its importance to the local community, during that time neither Lancashire County Council or Preston City Council have produced any concrete plans to restore it, presumably due to budget shortfalls or because they failed to secure the necessary funding.
Of course, the immense challenges posed by the pandemic mean that both councils can be forgiven for prioritising other incentives. The Furlough Scheme, Eat Out to Help Out, the Council Tax Hardship Fund, and Business Rate Relief are just a few of the numerous COVID schemes that fall under the councils’ purview. Then there’s the £20.9 million that Preston received through the Town Deal to consider. Council workers have worked incredibly hard during the past 18 months to keep Preston’s economy afloat.
Read more: £20.9m Towns Fund boost for Preston city centre projects including a Youth Zone
It would then, given the hardship faced by so many, seem churlish to bang the drum for the preservation of a bridge. But it is a matter of restoring civic pride as much as it’s about unblocking one of the main arteries into the city centre. The boarded-up bridge straddling Preston and South Ribble is an eyesore – not only for local residents who have witnessed its demise, but to visitors of Avenham Park who are left with a less than ideal lasting impression of our city.
Previously, the Old Tram Bridge formed part of Lancashire County Council’s Transforming Cities Fund (TCF), and while Preston benefits from this significant investment, proposals to repair the bridge under this scheme were unsuccessful. Since then, both authorities have warned that unless external funding is found, the bridge will remain closed, falling into even greater disrepair.
That’s why the Government’s £4.8 billion Levelling Up Fund, earmarked for infrastructure investment and regeneration across the country, presents a game-changing opportunity to finally reopen this crucial part of the travel network connecting the communities of Preston and South Ribble.
Read more: Transport schemes in Preston and Lancashire could receive up to £50m boost
According to the Chancellor, the Levelling Up scheme will invest in local infrastructure in areas which have received less government investment in recent years and are in desperate need of renewal. But readers will be disappointed to learn that one round to bid for these funds has already passed with no proposal submitted by either authority.
If anything, both councils appear to be embroiled in a stand-off over which one should take the initiative amongst competing priorities. While Preston City Council has previously accepted ownership of the bridge, Lancashire County Council (as the designated highway authority) has paid for maintenance in the past. To the person on the street, it appears both councils are waiting for the other to make the first move.
Read more: Old Tram Bridge ownership debate has been settled
Preston could however still be awarded up to £20 million in the second round of funding to invest in projects such as the Old Tram Bridge, which in turn could unlock £7 million of investment in Avenham and create local jobs.
Neither Preston City Council nor Lancashire County Council can afford to wait until the bridge falls into a worse state. If neither authority takes the initiative now, there’s a real possibility the bridge will remain closed indefinitely, which would be a blow to local residents and to the wider Preston community. Both councils must realise that the Levelling Up Fund is the best opportunity Preston has to reopen the Old Tram Bridge.
Read more: Preston City Council says funding bid for Old Tram Bridge repairs ‘will be considered’
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