Historic Pulteney Bridge traffic ban dropped
Controversial plans to pedestrianise Bath’s historic Pulteney Bridge have been abandoned by the new regime at Bath and North East Somerset Council because of the impact on elderly people living in the area.
Conservative councillors had previously discussed plans to close the bridge to all traffic amid concerns that heavy buses were damaging the 18th century structure – but a final decision on the move was continually delayed.
The plan had been spearheaded by the former chairman of the Pulteney Estate Residents Association and the council’s former cabinet member for major projects councillor Terry Gazzard who has said the bridge was being damaged by heavy vehicles.
But Liberal Democrat councillors have now decided to abort the plans and have encouraged bus company First, which diverted its services away from the bridge in anticipation of the closure, to reinstate their services.
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Mr Gazzard, who stood down as a councillor in the elections in May, said he was disappointed by the latest development and said he had been working on the proposals for more than six years.
He said his reasons for doing so were three-fold.
He said: “Firstly, it is an iconic structure that represents Bath, for example it is seen every day and night on ITV News.
“Secondly I think that we should develop it to turn it into a public place of interest and a place for people to go and sit. And my last reason was for pedestrian safety.”
The former Conservative councillor said he had seen many “near misses” on the road where pedestrians had nearly been killed or badly injured by buses negotiating the narrow road.
“The bridge is continuing to be damaged because of council inaction” he said.
“What I want specifically is to get a complete ban of traffic across the bridge, except one emergency vehicle access link.”
He added: “I would like to thank First Bus for not doing to the bridge what they did and not continuing to send 150 to 200 buses a day over the bridge.”
First has not yet rediverted either its 4 or 264/5 service, which Lib Dems hoped would improve access to town for elderly people and has told the council it has no immediate plans to do so.
The council’s cabinet member for transport councillor Roger Symonds (Lib Dem, Combe Down) said they were keen to abandon the pedestrianisation plans to alleviate the problems faced by elderly people in the area trying to get into town.
He said: “There was no provision made for people who rely on the buses on the other side of the bridge and they faced quite a hardship getting into town and that doesn’t seem to have been considered at all.
“The taxis have continued over the bridge anyway.”
He said they had no reason to believe the bridge was being damaged.
The council said an inspection on the safety of the bridge was carried out but could not release details of such an inspection.
A statement released last year said: “The proposals were made to protect an iconic grade I listed structure that was not designed for modern day traffic, create a shared space environment for all to enjoy safely and improve accessibility and safety for pedestrians and cyclists. The bridge is one of very few examples of its kind in the world and the council is mindful of its responsibility to protect this iconic structure for future generations.”
Councillor Manda Rigby, who organised a public meeting to demonstrate the strength of feeling against the plans in the area said she was delighted that the council had decided to scrap proposals.
Ms Rigby fought against the plans on behalf of residents, namely elderly people living in Great Pulteney Street who were worried about the increase in taxi fares to and from the city centre which will result, along with the extra distance they will have to walk to catch buses.
She said: “I am absolutely delighted and the sooner we can get buses over the bridge, the better.
“This is the culmination of a lot of work and the removal of the buses has been hugely inconvenient for the last year.”
She said the buses played a vital role in helping people get to the library, the central post office and the GP surgery in Great Pulteney Street.
Ms Rigby said as many as seven taxis could sometimes be seen looking for trade outside the surgery.
The bridge has been closed to cars for more than ten years but buses and taxis have still been allowed to cross it.