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Controversial Walnut Bridge Decision For Extra £450k Suspended And Sent Back To Executive To Reconsider

Published on: 6 Feb, 2020
Updated on: 6 Feb, 2020

Guildford Borough Council Overview and Scrutiny committee last night suspended the council Executive’s decision to award an additional sum of £450,000 for Walnut Bridge and sent it back to the Executive with recommendations to reconsider.

An artist’s impression of the proposed Walnut Bridge.

In what is understood to be the first call-in of an executive decision since 2012, 13 councillors had referred the decision made in January 2020 to the committee complaining that the bridge would not achieve its stated aim to improve accessibility as there would be no ramp to the towpath, that the carbon cost had not been measured and that building the bridge before development of the town’s masterplan would restrict the planner’s options.

Cllr Dennis Booth

There were also questions about whether the Executive had had all the information it required to make the decision.

Cllr Dennis Booth (R4GV, Christchurch) said that the decision to advance further money was taken “almost quite flippantly on what I would call a folly.”

Cllr Tim Anderson (R4GV, Clandon & Horsley) said that the existing bridge looked shabby and unremarkable but that the new bridge “looked unremarkable even before it was built.” He added that “There needs to be a pause for thought for the beautiful town of Guildford to get the bridge it deserved which will stand the test of time.”

Cllr Caroline Reeves

In a staunch defence of her administration’s decision to press ahead with the controversial bridge, the leader of the council, Caroline Reeves (Lib Dem, Friary & St Nicolas) said the project had gone back as far as 2012. A key aim had been to reduce pedestrian use of Bridge Street.  She said that delay to the bridge would mean that the March 2021 deadline agreed with the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) would not be met and that: “We would have to pay back the £1.5m LEP funding that we have already spent. We would end up with more cost and no bridge.”

She was very critical of executive members who considered that they were not fully briefed saying; “If anyone made that decision feeling they were not fully briefed, then they need to make sure they do not do that again.”

Cllr Liz Hogger

Both Liz Hogger (Lib Dem, Effingham) and George Potter (Lib Dem, Burpham) spoke in support of the decision made. Mr Potter said: “It is not ideal but by progressing, we would allow the bridge to be completed without having to repay the LEP, and we would have a wider bridge at the end of it.”

He added that the scrutiny was a “valuable exercise.”

Cllr George Potter

Ms Reeves said that it had never been said that “all development would stop whilst work on the masterplan took place. There are many schemes in the town such as the public realm works (Chapel Street, Swan Lane and Castle Street), the museum, North Street development and the bus station. How long would we have to wait for a masterplan?

“We have this opportunity to do this improvement for the residents and I am very happy with the decision I made at the Executive. ”

Cllr Joss Bigmore

Joss Bigmore (R4GV, Christchurch) said that he had also been happy with his decision at the Executive but questioned whether it was “good money after bad?

“We should go to the LEP to request an extra year” for a better design to be developed. “If they say no, then maybe this is the fallback.”

Cllr John Rigg

John Rigg (R4GV, Holy Trinity) said: “I don’t feel bound by any of the decisions by previous councils of a different persuasion.

“The design is not a credit to Guildford. The project, in principle, is right but we have gone wrong in design and cost.”

The Executive is now required to reconsider their decision of January 7 on to award additional funds for Walnut Bridge and the recommendations of the Overview and Scrutiny committee.

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Responses to Controversial Walnut Bridge Decision For Extra £450k Suspended And Sent Back To Executive To Reconsider

  1. Mike Forster Reply

    February 6, 2020 at 9:50 am

    The right result. Nothing should be progressed on a new pedestrian bridge at least until an acceptable masterplan for the town centre has ben adopted.

  2. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    February 6, 2020 at 2:00 pm

    Regardless of what the masterplan comes up with, North Street development cannot proceed with the bus station occupying the site during its construction. On or off site, wholly or partially, whatever (a bus station or on-street bus bays) is the final outcome, the bus station has to be vacated.

    The question is where will it go? Reports on the bus station relocation have looked at 10 sites as possible options and Bedford Road car park appeared be the choice of the bus operators provided the congestion around the gyratory was addressed.

    Replacement of Walnut Bridge offers a possible option to take outgoing buses to Walnut Tree Close and then to Onslow Street via Bridge Street. This is shown in the sketch below together with a simpler ramp that keeps the Wharf Plaza design options open for now and reduces the cost and duration of the scheme,-

    However, congestion on Bridge Street also needs to be addressed at the same time. To this end, my humble suggestion is to alter the gyratory to enable such a reduction.

    This alteration would allow right turn from Farnham Road into Park Street for cars only and then they would proceed to Portsmouth Road or turn left on to Friary Bridge in contraflow direction and head for Millbrook. Wider traffic would continue to use the existing route.

    Sketches showing the possibilities can be found on the same website above by clicking on the right arrow or ‘Next’ and enlarged by clicking on the + sign if necessary.

    It is therefore urgent for the council to take a decision whether they would consider a wider Walnut bridge as shown on my sketch. This option may be temporary but I guess it would last for a number of years before North Street work ends.

    Tenders are in for the design and build. Tenderers could be asked to provide bids for this alternative. Time is short but at this stage when no detail design by the tenderers have been done, so they should be able to come up with their bids within a relatively short period of time.

  3. John Perkins Reply

    February 6, 2020 at 2:25 pm

    It’s not entirely clear what Cllr Reeves means when she says that “the project had gone back as far as 2012”. Is she implying that it’s all the fault of the previous administration? She was influential in that administration and is in control now.

    Perhaps she can tell us what the £1.5 million has been spent on? Certainly nothing concrete, and the artist’s impression could not have cost more than £50.

    In 2018, Cllr Reeves caused a colleague and fellow party member to resign when she failed to inform him about a decision that directly affected him. Is she therefore the right person to criticise those who feel they are not properly briefed?

    I wonder if an experiment with proportional representation in appointments to the executive rather than the heavy bias in favour of the Lib Dems might help.

  4. Cllr Liz Hogger, Lib Dem councillor for Effingham Reply

    February 7, 2020 at 11:16 am

    It seems to me that the Executive had a really difficult decision to make.

    Under the previous council administration, significant money had been wasted on an initial design that turned out to be too expensive to construct, leading to the current more utilitarian design which is feasible albeit needing extra funding. So it was an invidious choice – proceed with this project as is, or risk having to repay the LEP if it wasn’t built by their deadline, which would mean a total loss of over £1.5 million with no bridge to show for it.

    I will be amazed if the LEP agree to extend the funding deadline given the erratic progress on the project so far, but the majority of the Scrutiny Committee thought it was worth a try. Let’s hope for a good outcome one way or the other – either the LEP do relent, or if not, that it will still be possible to construct the bridge on time in spite of this delay.

    It was pointed out at the committee that over 4,000 people cross the current shabby narrow bridge every day, and it is not compliant with disabled access regulations.

    Surely those thousands of people deserve a safe, more welcoming and traffic-free bridge between station and town?

    Let’s hope this delay won’t lose the council the opportunity to deliver that quickly.

    Liz Hogger is a Lib Dem councillor for Effingham.

    • Bibhas Neogi Reply

      February 7, 2020 at 3:51 pm

      It is not that the utilitarian bridge is more expensive, it is that large part of LEP funding of £1.5m has been spent already on abortive initial design. The remaining fund with SCC contributing £1.5m is not sufficient for the project.

      To ensure the project is completed within the LEP time limit of March 2021, would it not be prudent to remove the massive ramps and galleries from the scheme and replace them with a simpler and much cheaper ramp only down to Bedford Road? This would also leave Wharf Plaza design open for further consideration.

      In my view, the ‘council design’ is not the appropriate form for a bridge over the river since it will require temporary works if an in-situ concrete bridge is built. It is not clear to what extent the design has been carried out. It might just be an indicative design? It would be sensible to use girders or precast beams that would be craned in for a speedy construction.

      Similarly a simpler ramp can be constructed using precast retaining wall units. The use of precast beams and retaining wall units would considerably speed up the job.

      Possible use of Bedford Road car park as a bus station is another issue and then the opportunity of designing Walnut Bridge suitable for carrying a bus lane out in addition to Laundry Road and Leas Road should be explored.

  5. Keith Francis Reply

    February 9, 2020 at 5:08 pm

    Getting away from the politics, the way this and many other projects are taking too long to happen in Guildford, the funding organisation should be known as “SLEEP”.

  6. Barry Williams Reply

    February 10, 2020 at 4:32 pm

    Irrespective of the rights and wrongs about the Walnut Bridge, the argument surely indicates that Guildford needs more pedestrian and cyclist connectivity east – west over over both river and rail. This would help reduce reliance on vehicle use and join up our neighbourhoods.

    As a suggestion. could a connecting link from the route of Yorkie’s Bridge (crossing the railway between the university and Jewsons) that joins up with Wharf Road on the opposite bank be of benefit?

    True this direct route may not be feasible due to to current use, land availability, cost effectiveness etc. but surely other pedestrian, rail and river crossings must be considered by our council?

    • Jim allen Reply

      February 10, 2020 at 8:16 pm

      Until the planners understand the phrase “integrated transport”, no amount of sensible ideas on moving people around will ever seem like common sense.

  7. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    February 12, 2020 at 4:00 pm

    The replacement Walnut Bridge would be in the Sustainable Movement Corridor coming through Yorkie’e Bridge. There are other ideas that could be relevant for the east west movement of traffic including pedestrians and cyclists.

    I think these ideas are worth exploring and are important in the overall town centre masterplan (TCM). TCM has to be holistic and should anticipate the need for infrastructures that would maintain smooth running of the buses for instance, when North Street work progresses. It should avail any opportunity to incorporate, modify and extend the scope of any new works and not compromise the best possible use of them.

  8. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    February 18, 2020 at 1:48 pm

    The best course of action would be for the council to request the LEP for an extension to March 2022.

    A replacement bridge is needed but its functionality must be expanded to the full. As designed, the 4.0m wide bridge with no segregation of pedestrians and cyclists is not very safe. Also lack of parapets on lower part of the ramp are still unresolved concerns.

    When the station exit lines up with this bridge and when the Sustainable Movement Corridor coming through Yorkie’s Bridge passes over it, the number of pedestrians at peak times and users of 438 Solum Flats and all other developments on Walnut Tree Close are added to this, the total could exceed capacity especially if cyclists and pedestrians are segregated.

    The room required for the relocated steps off the side of either the new bridge or the existing one if retained could be gained by local widening of the tow path using a concrete apron oversailing the edge of the river.

    Let us hope the LEP would reconsider and agree an extension for a simpler design with a simpler ramp and carrying a single bus lane on a temporary basis as mentioned in my previous comments.

    A low maintenance concrete bridge would be a much better choice instead of a steel box design.

  9. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    March 2, 2020 at 9:00 am

    Guildford Borough Council should stop this project as designed because being only 4.0m wide, the bridge is unsafe for unsegregated use by pedestrians and cyclists. Wrapped around ramps could cause accidents at their junctions with pedestrians.

    It will also be expensive to maintain because of its extensive surface area of painted steel. Disruption during maintenance is a factor that needs reviewing.

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