Petition calls on Preston City Council to use Levelling Up Fund cash to restore Old Tram Bridge

A petition signed by more than 3,000 people has been presented to Preston City Council, calling on the authority to make a pitch for government funding to save the Old Tram Bridge.

Thursday, 6th January 2022, 11:42 am

It will be three years next month since the iconic city structure - which links Avenham Park and Penwortham - was abruptly closed amid concerns over its condition. A subsequent survey found that it was at risk of sudden collapse.

The Friends of the Old Tramroad Bridge group, together with former city councillor Daniel Dewhurst, have previously called on the authority to try to secure cash from the nationwide Levelling Up Fund in order to guarantee the future of the crossing - either by repairing the existing bridge or replacing it.

Councils have been invited to bid for up to £20m to support one or several projects which would realise the government’s aim for the fund of reducing inequalities between different parts of the UK.

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As the Lancashire Post revealed last year, it has been estimated that an entirely new bridge would cost in the region of £6m.

Glenn Cookson, chair of the friends group, said that the weight of the petition reflected a local desire for the bridge to be brought back into use - for a range of different reasons.

“On Heritage Open Day last year, we had a stall on Avenham Park - and we got a lot of interest from people who were passionate about the bridge and were disappointed that it was still closed.

“Some were concerned about heritage and some about the green credentials of being able to walk from one side of the river to the other. The inconvenience of it being shut is just frustrating for people.

“We’re hoping this petition reinforces the importance of the bridge,” Glenn said.

He added that he was hopeful that the city council was now open to “dialogue” over a bridge-based levelling up bid, with its officers having recently met with campaigners to hear their case.

In November, the authority set out how it planned to identify a scheme or schemes that it would ask the government to back via the fund. It said that it would work with “key organisations and stakeholders” to come up with a potential list of projects, which would then be narrowed down by assessing them against the factors that are deemed to make a strong bid.

However, cabinet member for planning and regulation David Borrow said local authorities are yet to receive revised government criteria for the second round of the Levelling Up Fund, under which Preston intends to bid. He also stressed that there would be plenty of competition within the city for the cash.

“As this funding can be utilised for a range of projects, it is important that we consider the different priorities and schemes for Preston, including high street regeneration, local transport and health projects, [which] could all benefit from this funding.

“We acknowledge and understand that there is a strong local interest in the Old Tram Bridge, but also recognise that the necessary works it requires includes significant investment which will need to be considered against other priorities in the city.

“Government stated that any submitted projects to this fund need to be sufficiently developed, in line with treasury standard business cases.

“Round 1 closed in June 2021 with Preston City Council choosing not to bid, instead waiting for the further rounds, with external funding being made available to priority areas, such as Preston, to help create the bids.

“The government said that further detail on how the fund will operate from 2022-23 onwards would be set out in late 2021. This has still not been published.

Preston City Council intends to bid under Round 2, using the further information provided to ensure we get the best deal for the city,” Cllr Borrow said.

The petition - which garnered over 300 signatures from passers-by during the Heritage Open Day event and a further 2,800 online - has also been sent to Preston MP Mark Hendrick.

Under the original Levelling Up Fund prospectus published last year, the government said that it wanted to put “local stakeholder support, including the local MP where they want to be involved, at the heart of its mission” for the fund,

Daniel Dewhurst said that he was unaware of a petition with so many signatories ever having been presented at Preston Town Hall before,

He added: “Hopefully, the submission of the petition will serve as a reminder to Preston City Council that we’re committed to the Old Tram Bridge reopening - and [will demonstrate] the strength of feeling amongst many of our city’s residents that using the Levelling Up Fund to reopen the bridge should be a priority.”