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Concern over increasing costs of replacement Guildford footbridge project

4 minute read
Concern over increasing costs of replacement Guildford footbridge project

Published by Local Democracy Reporter Rebecca Curley at 6:00am 11th January 2020.

Guildford Borough Council has been warned it does not have a “bottomless pit of money” after it was revealed an extra £450,000 is now needed to fund a pedestrian bridge already set to cost £3.4million.

The controversial Walnut Bridge Project, to replace the existing bridge in the town centre with a wider one, was discussed at the council’s executive meeting on Tuesday (7 January).

At the meeting, it was decided that the £350,000 works to improve Bedford Plaza public space should be incorporated into the bridge scheme.

But the additional £450,000 spend approved for the bridge caused unease among some councillors.

Cllr John Redpath, a member of Residents for Guildford and Villages (R4GV) who is not an executive member, said:

“It’s gone over budget.

"It’s a very sensitive subject from the previous administration and it’s more money being asked for.”

Fellow R4GV member Dennis Booth, also not on the executive, said he felt the decision was being taken too easily and that the bridge was turning into a costly ornamental structure with what he claimed was no practical purpose.

Cllr Both said:

“I’m concerned that a figure of half a million pounds is really talked about quite glibly. It’s another half a million. When will it stop? This is not a bottomless pit of money. 

“This is a folly and it’s time it was considered to be a folly and this project canned. I cannot believe we want to build this bridge at this present time when we are yet to even consider what will be done in this area.”

The replacement bridge between Guildford town centre and the railway station links Walnut Tree Close to Bedford Wharf. 

It will be wider so cyclists and pedestrians can use it and include a ramp for disabled access. 

The council already has planning permission and has an approved original budget of £3.4m, of which £1.5m will be funded by a grant from the Enterprise M3 LEP (Local Enterprise Partnership).

Planning permission was granted in 2018 but one of the conditions is that the public realm project to improve Bedford Wharf needs to be completed within six months of the bridge being built. 

The council is concerned this could mean the bridge will be closed while Bedford Wharf is redesigned, so decided to carry out things like lighting and landscaping at the same time as the bridge construction.

Original timeframes had the new bridge being built by March 2020. A one-year extension to the LEP grant has already been agreed which means the cash must be spent by March 2021.

If the project is thrown out the council will have to repay that funding. 

On Tuesday councillors also criticised the design of the bridge but cllr David Goodwin, Liberal Democrat, who sits on the executive, said the current bridge is “not fit for purpose”.

Cllr Goodwin added:

“When the weather is wet, windy or frosty it’s downright dangerous so therefore we do need a replacement.

"It should have been got rid of many years ago.”

The executive agreed for the extra half a million pounds to be transferred from other budgets into the Walnut Bridge project. Two members, cllrs Joss Bigmore and John Rigg, both R4GV, voted against the transfer of the extra money.

Council deputy leader Fiona White, Lib Dem, said:

“I do think it’s important we go ahead with this project. This area needs to be tidied up. Building the bridge is an integral part of doing that. People have waited far too long for the improvements.”

The extra £450,000 will now be transferred from a capital contingency fund for the Walnut Bridge Project and the £350,000 for the Bedford Plaza realm works will be transferred to the approved capital budget fund.