Sunday, 28 December 2008

Brunel Bridge plan dropped

Plans for a Festival Way cycling and walking route from Hotwells to Ashton Court and on to Nailsea were intended to bring back into use Brunel's 160 year old swing bridge that crossed the entrance lock at the western end of the Cumberland Basin. The bridge ceased to be used in 1968 after the new flyover system was built but remains in situ in the 'open' (to navigation) position in the shadow of the high level swing bridge and flyover system.

But a recent press release from Sustrans says "The path will cross new lock gates at Brunel's old swing bridge in the Cumberland Basin before going under the flyover". The use of the word "at" rather than "on" (Brunel's bridge) is much more significant than a quick reading would suggest, although the word "near" would be more honest. This confirms suspicions that Bristol City Council are reluctant to restore the historic bridge to working order and will come as a great disappointment to those Bristolians who have pressed for this over many years.

The weasel worded press release goes on to quote Bristol's so-called "Cycling Champion" Cllr Terry Cook as saying "A new crossing will soon run across the top of the existing lock gates in Bristol's Floating Harbour, offering walkers and cyclists a three-metre wide path as a quick and convenient crossing through the harbour. The route will pass beside Brunel's forgotten bridge, which will not be forgotten again, as it will form a unique attraction on the route, and will become a focal point, providing a convenient spot and resting place with a bench bearing Brunel's iconic image."

So the high hopes of those who long dreamt of seeing Brunel's 1849 swing bridge restored to good use are to be answered with a bench! Anyone familiar with the site will know that notions of the historic bridge becoming a "focal point" or a "convenient spot" are disingenuous. In its open position the bridge is partly hidden under the modern swing bridge and the area around is blighted by the noise and shadow of the massive concrete flyover. Only swinging the bridge across the entrance lock would enable it to be properly viewed and appreciated once again.

It may be that the renovation involved in restoring the bridge to operation would have proved too costly, although the plans allowed for £150k to cover this work which seems realistic, given that the bridge remains in fundamentally sound condition. Besides, should we not be giving more recognition than ever to the value of the industrial heritage embodied in the old docks?

What may prove most depressing about this regretable news is the way it has been 'slipped out' under cover of a news story based around the more welcome news of the development of a cycle and walking route from Hotwells to Ashton Court, Long Ashton and Nailsea. We are used to such devious tactics form Bristol City Council's PR staff but it seems that the Council's new 'partner' Sustrans is now playing the same game. Don't those who have invested so much in this project deserve to be informed of the demise of their dream in a more honourable way?

Pictures courtesy of


Anonymous said...

Thanks to your post I finally know where to find Brunel's original swivel bridge. The comments on the flyover show the long history of the appalling way Bristol treats its heritage - apart from the sanitised version that is officially approved by the occupants of the Counts Louse and the local great and the good.

Finally, I wonder whether Terry Cook managed to come up with that quote by himself or it was dreamed up by the council's press officers. I think we should be told.

Chris Hutt said...

The Brunel swing (or swivel) bridge has a fascinating history - well worth reading the links to try to untangle it.

It's not a pretty bridge but it was one of Brunel's first bridges of that type and the principle of using tubular structural members was subsequently employed by him to dramatic effect on the Saltash railway bridge, so it was pioneering in its design.

It's sad to see it lying there like a beached whale. It was a utilitarian bridge and it should be used again.

The Bristol Blogger said...

"... a convenient spot and resting place with a bench bearing Brunel's iconic image."?

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't this a proposal to put up a park bench with a picture of Brunel on it by a flyover?

That's certainly a "unique attraction" I suppose.

Anonymous said...

BB: only Bristol City Council would regard a park bench by a busy road choked with fumes and traffic noise as a "unique" attraction (the rest of the human race would regard it as a waste of time and money).

Welcome to the parallel universe of Bristol City Council, who seem to have gone down the other leg of the space-time trousers to the rest of us ;-)

Anonymous said...

Hi Bristol Green Blog.

I must say that I was gutted and annoyed to hear this news. I campaigned nearly 3 years ago with David Neale to secure the restoration of this bridge and it's inclusion in a cycle route (see this post from 2006: and was very disappointed to hear (as usual via the Evening Post rather than the Council!) that for some reason it has been dropped.

It is absurd to suggest that before we wont the "Cycling City" millions we had enough money to do the restoration, but now we have lots more cash suddenly we don't!

I have to say that I have been less than impressed with Sustrans in Bristol lately. I think the BCC "Officer agenda" seems to have taken root there.

Your point about needing to keep the lock-gates open at times is well made.

I and other Lib Dem cllrs in the area wont be letting this one drop without a fight...