Tuesday, 31 January 2012

For whom the bridge swings

Sutton Weaver swing bridge is, as we all know, the western approach to Frodsham.  It carries the A56 over the Weaver Navigation.  In fact it is the most used approach to Frodsham given its proximity to the M56 and the fact that it can accommodate taller vehicles than those that can get beneath the railway bridges that restrict vehicles on two of the other approaches.  The tight turns at the bottom of Fluin Lane (the only other realistic approach to Frodsham) also impede easy access to the Town.

Not only does the bridge look awful in its present rusty condition, but as those of us who drive over it already know – the carriageway is flexing and needs patching constantly.  The deck plates need replacing – and until they are, and the highway deck stabilised, the on-going cost of patching the roadway is around £30,000 a year.

Cheshire West and Chester Council is the highway authority and has the responsibility for maintaining the A56 along with most of the road network in the Borough.  However the Sutton Weaver swing bridge is a special case. 

The bridge itself belongs to British Waterways.  When this leg of the Navigation was constructed in the early 1800s, it was a condition of being given the right to build the canal that the then trustees had to install a swing bridge at this location. 

A new bridge was constructed in the 1920s – and it is this bridge that is in great need of refurbishment.  Of course since then road traffic has greatly increased – as has the maximum weight of the vehicles that can use the bridge.   Works were carried out on the bridge to allow it to carry heavier vehicles.  Some have suggested that it was the strengthening work that has given rise to the present problems.

British Waterways and Cheshire West and Chester’s predecessor the old County Council agreed in 1982 a formula to share the costs of maintenance and repair for the swing bridge – with one-third of the costs to be met by the Council, and two-thirds by British Waterways.

There is no debate regarding the need for repair and refurbishment – however there is a question about where the money will come from.  British Waterways say they don’t have the money to do the work.  Even Cheshire West and Chester would struggle to find the resources in this cash strapped age.

Well tomorrow Cllr Lynn Riley and I are off to London to do some lobbying.

Of course finding the money is only really the ‘end of the beginning.’  Making sure the job is done swiftly and efficiently – minimising disruption to Frodsham, its businesses and the commununity – will be the bigger challenge.

Could you imagine the chaos if the M56 is closed and the swing bridge is closed... and this is before we get the construction traffic for the second Mersey Crossing...

Fingers crossed ...