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Public denied chance to consult on Old Tram Bridge replacements

Posted on - 11th March, 2024 - 7:00am | Author - | Posted in - Avenham, Parks, Preston City Centre, Preston Council, Preston News, Redevelopment, South Ribble News
Designs released for the new bridge over the Ribble
Designs released for the new bridge over the Ribble

Only one design option has been deemed suitable as a replacement for Preston’s Old Tram Bridge – meaning the public will not be able to have their say on a range of possibilities, as had previously been planned.

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Preston City Council and Lancashire County Council have now unveiled the suspension-type structure that they have assessed as being “the most practical and attractive” of three styles that were considered to re-establish the connection between Avenham Park and Penwortham.

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It had been intended to carry out a public engagement exercise on the trio of options, but the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) understands that the plan was changed when it became clear two of them would not have been able to be delivered, even if locals had indicated a preference for one of the pair.   One of the rejected options would have been unsafe in the event of a flood.

Read more: Preston City Council’s plan to return social housing to the city

The aim now is to have the new bridge opened by spring 2025 – as dictated by the rules of the government’s Levelling Up Fund, which is covering the cost of the £6.6m project.

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By that point, the historic link will have been cut for six years.  The current structure was closed in February 2019 after a safety assessment found that it was at risk of collapsing without warning.

Designs released for the new bridge over the Ribble

A campaign was launched to either repair or replace the cross-river route – which dates back to 1804 in its original form – with 3,000 people signing a petition calling for its reinstatement.  However, funding proved elusive until it was included as part of a package of projects that Preston City Council put forward for Levelling Up Fund cash.

Glenn Cookson, from the Friends of Old Tram Bridge, told the LDRS it was “unfortunate that the community wasn’t able to participate in a consultation for the final bridge design”.

“However, given the essence of time, [since] the project needs to be completed by March 2025, we are really pleased that a replacement bridge has finally been selected and it would seem that the project is on plan to be delivered,” he added.

“We’re now really excited to see works commence.   The new bridge design won’t replicate the existing [one], but it will be attractive and sympathetic to its surroundings – and we hope that the people of Preston are happy to support [it].

“The bridge started as a wooden structure over 200 years ago – it’s part of the bridge’s history to evolve and be rebuilt and I think it is exciting that we will witness its new lease of life.

“Ultimately, though, the utility of the bridge is so important. We have been without a bridge for nearly five years and now we need this important pedestrian, cycling and bridleway link back,” Glenn said.

The LDRS understands that there may be a public display of the bridge design in the Avenham Park pavilion at some point, although that has not been confirmed.

The painting and final colour of the bridge is yet to be decided, but the councils say it will complement the natural surroundings. Consideration has also been given to the ongoing maintenance costs associated with painting the bridge.

Designs released for the new bridge over the Ribble

Meanwhile, a lighting design will be chosen to “respect the ecology” and provide “a safe and attractive pedestrian bridge link” across the Ribble.

A series of environmental assessments, ground investigations and topographical surveys have all now been completed. The project team is also consulting the Environment Agency, Marine Management Organisation and ecologists to ensure that the environmental impacts of the new bridge are considered fully throughout the construction and the lifetime of the bridge – which it is hoped will be 120 years.

Preston-based architects, Studio John Bridge, are behind the design that has been chosen.

Cllr Valerie Wise, Preston City Council’s cabinet member for community wealth building and city centre regeneration and development, said: “It has been important to work with a local architect who understands the local context and we aim to provide an opportunity for the community to be kept informed of the proposals.

“It’s [also] important that we get it right and make sure it’s a bridge that stands the test of time, as well as looking good in its surroundings.”

John Bridge, from Studio John Bridge, said the firm was delighted to be part of “the next chapter in the history of the Tram Road Bridge”.

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He added:  “Since its closure, it has been a huge talking point and, as a Prestonian, I am so pleased the council has secured [it] through Levelling Up funding.

“Since assisting the councils and constructor, it is very impressive to see all the work that has been carried out behind the scenes by all parties, from ecology to logistics and legal departments. I hope with the support of the public and all involved, we’ll deliver this important transport link from the city parks to South Ribble.”

Lancashire County Council’s cabinet member for economic development and growth, Aidy Riggott, added: “The tram bridge is a key feature of this part of the River Ribble and the new bridge will restore an important active travel route between South Ribble and Preston city centre for pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders.

“Providing good, sustainable transport links and places where people can stay healthy by enjoying the outdoors is a key aspect of our levelling up ambitions and I’m very pleased to be investing in this project, which will benefit people in this area for generations to come.”

Bamber Bridge-based Eric Wright Civil Engineering will be working with the two local authorities to deliver the new bridge. The firm’s operations director, Gavin Hulme said the company had worked on “numerous complex river bridges in recent years and it is a privilege to be working on one so close to our head office and to contribute towards the long-standing infrastructure of Lancashire”.

Designs released for the new bridge over the Ribble

Why this bridge

Preston City Council says the final design was chosen based on a range of technical, design and environmental criteria, including:

The bridge is a long way from the nearest road and a key requirement is being able to deliver it to site and bring equipment close enough to construct it;

A bridge with a steel truss frame – a type of open web girder frame – has been selected as it is strong and light and it can be assembled on-site, then lifted into place with a crane;

It has a linear deck, which is essential to counter future flood level predictions and provides maximum clearance, supporting local ecology.

A number of variations of the design were put forward for the shape of the steel truss, as well as different options for the number of piers or supports – the legs of the bridge that extend into the water to the foundations.

The length of the spans – the distance between each of the piers or supports – over the river is restricted, due to the weight that the crane can lift at any one time. That affects the positions of piers needed in the river.

The existing bridge has nine spans and eight piers, six of which are in the river. The proposed design has four spans and only two piers in the river with a further pier on land.

Fewer piers in the river reduce flood risk and the effect of debris impact. It also minimises construction time and provides a more efficient and elegant design.

The new bridge will be a bridleway and so will now be suitable for carrying horses, as well as pedestrians and cyclists.  The minimum height of a bridleway has to be 3.75m high for the safety of the horses and their riders making the new structure slightly higher than the one it replaces.  As the LDRS revealed last week, that means new access ramps will have to be created on either side.

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The ones that got away

 A bow string profile was considered and a further straight profile in the central span, but these were deemed structurally inefficient for a bridleway bridge.

 An arch design was also considered, but the truss frame of the bridge would be below the water line during a major flood event.

Tram Bridge timeline

1804 – bridge opened to carry packhorse ‘trams’ between the Leeds- Liverpool Canal at Walton Summit and the Lancaster Canal in Preston.​   It operated for around 40 years before falling into disrepair –  and was by that point already called the ‘Old Tram Bridge’.​

1872 – structure acquired by the then Preston Corporation – now the city council – from the London and North Western Railway Company.  The abutments are the only surviving part of this original bridge installation.

1890s – bridge rebuilt by Preston Corporation, following the establishment of  Avenham Park.​   The stone pilasters at the ends of the bridge were installed at that time.​

1936 – bridge badly damaged by flooding after which it was rebuilt with concrete trestle supports in the river, made of railway rails surrounded by concrete, which still exist. ​

​Early 1940s – timber bridge deck removed during World War II, most likely for defence reasons.​

1950s – bridge restored

1960 – inspection​ revealed much of the timber was now rotten and the concrete supports were beginning to deteriorate. ​  Decision taken to replace the bridge deck.

November 1964 – bridge closed on safety grounds.

October 1965 – work to replace the timber deck with a concrete one began – a ta  cost of £17,725.​

1980’s onwards – inspections identify multiple, ongoing defects – including, in 1990, the failure of connections between beams at the supports as a result of corrosion.

​2013 – principal inspection found bridge condition to be very poor.

​2019 –  new inspection identified over 200 defects and found bridge at risk of sudden collapse. It was closed to the public in February.

2023 – scheme to replace the bridge awarded government cash as part of Preston’s £20m allocation from the Levelling Up Fund.  The cost of the project is estimated to be £6.6m.

What next?

Work to prune or remove trees around the bridge approaches is about to begin to enable  access to the bridge in advance of the old bridge’s demolition and the construction of its replacement.

Subject to planning approval, the main bridge works are set to start during the summer.

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