Preston tram bridge campaigners back call for funding to restore connection to South Ribble

Campaigners calling for an historic link between Preston and South Ribble to be restored have backed the idea of bidding for cash from a new government fund in order to bring an under-threat bridge back into use.

By Paul Faulkner
Tuesday, 17th August 2021, 12:55 pm
Updated Tuesday, 17th August 2021, 12:58 pm
The old tram bridge was closed without notice in February 2019
The old tram bridge was closed without notice in February 2019

The Old Tram Bridge - which runs from Avenham park across the Ribble to Penwortham - has been shut for more two-and-a-half years after an inspection found that it was in danger of collapsing without warning.

As the Post revealed earlier this year, it is estimated that it would cost around £6m to replace the structure - although the Friends of the Old Tramroad Bridge group claimed that it could be repaired for much less than that.

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Finding the finance for either option has so far appeared to be a forlorn hope, but last month Preston City Council - the owner of the bridge - said that it was considering making a bid to the Levelling Up Fund for the necessary works.

The news emerged after a call from former city councillor Daniel Dewhurst for the authority to explore that option.

District councils have been invited to bid for up to £20m to fund projects which could include small-scale transport schemes.

Glenn Cookson, chair of the friends group, said that in the two years since the bridge's closure, there had been "few opportunities or ideas that would realistically finance its reopening, whether that be through repairs or a complete rebuild".

He added: “That’s why we’re backing the campaign to use the Levelling Up Fund, which is the best opportunity Preston has to finally reopen the Old Tram Bridge. If we don’t harness this opportunity now, it’s likely the bridge will remain closed, falling into further disrepair.

“By giving the campaign our support, and that of our 2,300 members, we’re hopeful either Lancashire County Council or Preston City Council will see sense and submit plans to the government to reopen the bridge under the Levelling-Up Fund,” Mr. Cookson said.

Last month, Lancashire County Council appealed to all councils to come together and support "the one scheme" for which county transport authorities are able to bid from the fund - to the tune of £50m.

That is over and above the £20m projects open to district authorities like Preston - which must themselves receive county council support in order to be successful

However, there is also an option for district, county and standalone authorities to pool their shares from the fund to apply for one larger transformative transport scheme.

Daniel Dewhurst said that the friends group's support for his call showed the "strength of feeling [from] people across Preston who want to see this bridge reopened".

“In the two years since it was closed, we’ve seen no concrete plans by either Lancashire County Council or Preston City Council to reopen it, either because of budget shortfalls, or because we have lost out on securing vital funds.

“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.

“Both authorities need to consider the most strategic use of these funds and evaluate local taxpayers’ priorities in line with the great number of regenerative benefits reopening the Old Tram Bridge could bring to the area.

“If neither authority takes the initiative and submit a bid to the Levelling Up Fund, there’s a real possibility the bridge will remain closed indefinitely, which would be detrimental to the interests of local residents and the wider Preston community.”

Earlier this month, Preston City Council's cabinet member for the environment Robert Boswell said: “The Levelling-up Fund may provide this opportunity as it allows local authorities to bid for significant funding to invest in local infrastructure that will improve everyday life.

“As the fund will support city centre and high street regeneration, local transport projects, and cultural and heritage assets, it is important that we prioritise the projects for which any potential bid is made to a future funding round.

“Given the local interest in the Old Tram Bridge and the significant investment required to undertake works, this project will be considered alongside the other competing priorities for the city.

“However, in the meantime the bridge must remain closed for the safety and protection of the public.”

The original structure was built in 1802 to carry goods across the Ribble between Preston and Walton Summit. It was largely rebuilt in 1935 after being badly damaged by high flood waters and a new deck was installed to replace the previous timber one in 1966.