Progress report issued on replacement for Preston's Old Tram Bridge amid fear time is running out
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The authority was awarded the cash in January, much to the delight of the Friends of Tram Bridge group, which had been pushing for the link to be restored since the sudden closure of the current structure in 2019 over fears that it could collapse.
However, the organisation’s chair, Glenn Cookson, says that the more than 3,000 people who signed a petition pushing for the new bridge are concerned that things seem to have gone quiet in the nine months that have passed since the Levelling Up announcement.
In response to a Freedom of Information request to Preston City Council in July, he was told that detailed designs would be worked up over “the next six to 12 months”. But the government cash came with a clause that funded projects must be completed by March 2025 - and Glenn is worried that time is running out.
“The council has said that it will consult over the design of the bridge, which is really positive, but that can be a lengthy process in itself.
“We want to be able to have a positive dialogue with them, but people keep asking the group questions [about progress] - so the fact that we can't answer them is concerning.
“We know we don't have the expertise to get involved in [the technical aspects], but the very least we ask for is an update, because the 2025 deadline is looming,” said Glenn.
He added that other Levelling Up Fund projects in Preston - such as the proposed development of new sports facilities on Ashton Park - seemed much more advanced, with public consultations already completed.
In response to the group’s concerns, David Borrow, the city council’s cabinet member for planning and regulation, moved to reassure residents that plenty had been happening in the background.
“Whilst there may not be any visible signs of work at the site yet, we can confirm that work is in progress behind the scenes to ensure this project can be delivered for residents and visitors alike.
“Preston City Council and Lancashire County Council are working together through the Active Preston Levelling Up Fund Programme to deliver a replacement for the Old Tram Bridge, in partnership with Eric Wright Group, to bring the project to fruition.
“Much of the work to date has involved the assessment of environmental, legal and other constraints, all of which needs to be carried out before the detailed design phase. As that point is now approaching, a meeting with the Friends group is being arranged for October where the two Councils, Eric Wright Group and the Friends group can work together on the design proposals,” Cllr Borrow said.
Separately, in the Freedom of Information request response issued to the Friends group, the authority warned that the “main consideration” in the design of the bridge will be the funding available. A replacement bridge was estimated to cost around £6m in 2021, but inflation is likely to mean that the bill has since risen significantly.
Cllr Borrow himself has previously warned that the bridge design will have to be “basic”.
Glenn says that the Friends group itself does not have an opinion on what the new bridge should look like - instead being concerned only with the “utility” of the structure - but he acknowledges that individual members will have their own preferences.