Today the Post is throwing its weight behind a campaign to repair and reopen a historic bridge linking Preston and South Ribble.
The Old Tram Bridge, which spans the two banks of the River Ribble and links Avenham Park and Penwortham, has been shut since February for safety reasons.
No definitive date has been set for the reopening of the bridge - prompting fears that it may be left closed indefinitely.
The much-photographed bridge was well used by runners, cyclists, dog walkers and many others, but Lancashire County Council (LCC) shut it amid concerns about its condition following an inspection.
Michael Nye, 62, a writer and keen cyclist, has launched a campaign to see the bridge reopened - and we are with him. His Friends of the Old Tramroad Bridge group has gained huge traction since it started with more than 1,300 members. Michael is also the man behind a petition, with signatures fast on the way to 5,000, lobbying to protect the bridge, which dates back to the 1800s.
He said: “Why can you repair a bus station and not a bridge? There was a lot more of the bus station than there is of this bridge. It’s got to be saved, it has to be.
“The bridge opened in 1804 and has remained so for the vast majority of its life.
“Closing it without a date for reopening is not an option, as is closing it and not reopening it at all.”
LCC has said provisionally that the bridge will remain closed until at least September - with the potential to extend the closure if necessary.
A diversion has been put in place directing people to use the nearby Avenham Viaduct Bridge instead.
But Michael says he wants LCC to give a date stating when they aim to reopen the bridge given that it is such a fundamental route used by so many people.
He said: “It goes right back into history. Now two public rights of way or bridleways are blocked. The steps down the side of the bridge are useless.
“It’s ideal for people with mobility scooters all the way from Bamber Bridge and straight into Preston. They can’t do that with the alternative route that LCC has suggested, it’s too far.
“Even if you divert to the old east Lancashire railway line it’s not a suitable bridge it’s probably in worse condition than the Old Tram Bridge. It’s treacherous. When I go down the hill on my bike I have my brakes almost on full. The thing with the Tramway, it’s just wide enough that you can avoid people. It slopes as you get to Avenham Park but people can manage it.
“It’s a better route for disabled people. The railway bridge has two very long slopes. This bridge has been a part of Preston for so long. It’s not just the fact that it’s an amenity its the fact that there are memories attached to it.
“Sometimes the right thing to do is to repair what’s there. It might be a bit of drab little concrete but it’s our bit of drab little concrete.
“It’s got all the history of development which makes it what it is now. The cost to repair the bridge is less than the cost of demolishing it. There will be ongoing maintenance costs but even if you replace the bridge you will still have to pay for maintenance.
“You are better off repairing it than demolishing it. I have spoken to companies that are really interested in repairing it. I have talked to engineers and they say modern techniques can repair pressurised concrete.”
As a boy Richard Byers, 50, from South Ribble, used to cycle over the Old Tram Bridge. Now as the vice chairman of Ribble Valley Cycling and Racing Club Richard, who is also a keen runner, says he wants to speak up for his community to see the bridge reopened.
He said: “The Old Tram Bridge has been used for a long long time. It’s a part of a major national cycling route. While they are other bridges over the Ribble none are easy to use or as safe.
“If you live in South Ribble like I do, getting into Preston and to the Guild wheel is the primary route if you’re not in a car.
“It has all the benefits of being traffic free getting into town. When I worked in Preston I used to commute in on my bike. I’ve got several friends who used to commute in until they shut the bridge.
“Also the Preston 10k goes over the Old Tram Bridge and other runs use it as well. It’s the only bridge into the park where you can get a pushchair or mobility scooter over it. It’s traffic free and you don’t have to climb any steps.
“Not having it makes the river a real barrier if you are not using a car. It’s a real mental barrier as well because now you’ve got to divert a mile to the right or a mile to the left and it’s a long long way out. It’s not impossible but it’s that much longer.
“I have been using that bridge since I was taught to walk.”
Stephen Brown, 33, who owns dog walking service Barks and Recreation, walks dogs from all over Penwortham and Preston, and would regularly use the Old Tram Bridge.
He lives in Bamber Bridge and has two dogs himself, a Labrador called Roy and a pug called Georgie.
Stephen said: “Now that it’s not there, we have found other ways around it. It is an inconvenience though and it would be nice to have it back.
“I do about 10 miles a day and it’s quite easy to go round for me. We are very flexible with our routes but it’s quite a big hill to get up to go across the other bridge. It’s steep and the path is not the greatest - it’s not concrete and flat like the Old Tram Bridge.
“We support people who have learning disabilities to walk dogs and we can get around it but it is an inconvenience. The issue we have found is not being able to go under it. It’s structurally unsound so we also can’t go underneath. We have to walk past the water treatment place instead. It’s a link for people living in South Ribble. On this side we are a bit disconnected from Preston in some ways. It’s the convenience of being able to walk into Preston. It’s only three or four miles - the bridge makes Preston not seem so far away.”
Meanwhile, at Penwortham Town Council councillors are also taking action to bring the bridge back into use. Town manager at the authority Steve Caswell said: “We fully support the reopening of the Old Tram Bridge. It came up at one of our council meetings and we have informed Lancashire County Council about our concerns and we would like to see it opened as soon as possible.
“It’s the main thoroughfare from Penwortham to Preston for people who don’t use the road.”
A spokesman for Preston City Council, which manages Avenham Park, said: “We understand people are disappointed the bridge had to close, but it was necessary for safety reasons.
“We’re working closely with Lancashire County Council but in the meantime would encourage users to follow the diversion signs.”
A spokesman for Lancashire County Council said: “We recognise how much people value the Old Tram Bridge, however our only option was to close it after the recent inspection raised concerns about its safety.
“Our engineers are working on the final detailed inspection report and are will be preparing a report to the council’s cabinet in May.
“The maintenance responsibility for the bridge is currently being determined.”