Whose lorry hit the bridge? Why isn’t their insurance paying for its repair?

Unfortunately, nobody knows the identity of the high-sided lorry that hit the bridge back in November 2015. The driver did not stop, and the vehicle’s registration number was not taken by any witnesses, so there is no way of claiming the damage from the perpetrator’s insurance.

Can’t Bristol City Council claim from their own insurance?

Our understanding is that BCC is not insured against incidents like this. The cost of insuring all the city’s structures against accidental damage would be very high, so most are not insured and repairs are dealt with as required. This is not specific to BCC, but commonplace throughout the UK.

The bridge is a public footpath and a right of way. Surely the council is obliged to reopen it?

Our understanding is that the council is legally obliged to maintain a public right of way, or provide a reasonable alternative if the original path is unsafe. However there is no specific limit on how quickly the council must reinstate a footpath. The council’s current position is that the bridge is unsafe for pedestrians, and that an alternative, safer route across the road has been established. Most locals strongly disagree, and fear that a serious injury or death could result from the current inadequate pedestrian crossing.

Why is it taking so long?

A number of reasons, none insurmountable:

  • Budget. The council is under widespread financial pressure due to central government cuts, and is looking to make savings wherever it can. The budget for the actual repair has not yet been allocated as costs are not known. This is likely to be a key issue for the campaign over the coming months.
  • Resources. The bridge is grade II listed so needs to be repaired in keeping with conservation regulations. The council doesn’t have the technical skills in-house so has appointed a private contractor, CH2M, to do the investigative work. More crucially, the council’s in-house team responsible for Bristol’s bridges consists of two people for the whole of Bristol. So this project has been repeatedly bumped in favour of other, apparently more urgent tasks, elsewhere. This is an ongoing risk.
  • Political will. Ultimately, getting the bridge repaired requires senior management and politicians at Bristol City Council to consider it a priority. So far, this has not been the case. A main objective of the Save the Bridge campaign is to maintain constant pressure on the Council so that they know how important the bridge is to locals.

What are our councillors doing about it?

There are three Bristol City Councillors for the Avonmouth & Lawrence Weston ward, where the bridge is located. They are Don Alexander (Labour), Matt Melias (Conservative) and Jo Seargant (Labour). All have been involved in the campaign to reopen the bridge to varying degrees, but Don Alexander has taken the lead in trying to get action. He attended the Save the Iron Bridge rally in January, and has been updating this group since then.

It is worth knowing that our elected Councillors can’t directly make the Council do anything. They represent our views, but the work on the bridge is being carried out by the structures & highways team at the council, who cover the entire city. As such, it is in an ever-changing queue of priorities across Bristol.

The councillor with cabinet responsibility for transport – and therefor the person ultimately responsible for prioritising work across the city – is Mhairi Threlfall (Labour). (Think of the council system like Westminster – you have someone representing your area, but also ‘front bench’ cabinet ministers representing different portfolios.)

Mhairi has given several updates to this group since we first contacted her after the January rally, and has stated that the bridge WILL be reopened.

What about our MP?

Darren Jones (Labour) is the MP for Bristol North West. He too attended the Save the Iron Bridge rally in January, and has pledged his support.

Why aren’t there better signs / restrictors warning lorries about the bridge’s height? Why are lorries even using this route?

Very good questions which have been raised repeatedly with the Council. The short answer appears to be that nobody can come up with a better alternative.

The location of signs is controversial as there are few obvious places for lorries to turn back once they are on the approach to the bridge, whether from the Sea Mills, Blaise or Lawrence Weston directions. There is potentially a risk of log jamming traffic in these areas as large vehicles try to find alternative routes.

The junction as a whole has been the subject of endless discussion and proposals from neighbourhood groups and the Council over the past 10 years or more (since well before the bridge strike), and nobody has yet found a solution which meets the needs of different road users, buses and neighbouring communities.

How can I help?

If you haven’t already, please join our Facebook group. The more members we have, the bigger a voice. The Council has pledged to involve the community in the proposed repair solution, budget and timing. Through the group, we want everyone to be able to have their say.

Maintain pressure on the Council. Although our councillors and MP are well aware of the bridge situation, it needs sustained pressure to maintain it as a priority. Keep emailing!