A councillor has criticised the Corporation Bridge repairs delays, and supports a review to stop the same situation happening with other major projects.
The Grade II-listed Grimsby building has been shut for 10 months to motorists for essential maintenance. It was due to reopen before Christmas, but was announced in October as delayed because of the bridge’s “severe condition”.
The severity of the corrosion of the beams underneath the bridge had been described as “unforeseen”, but Cllr Steve Holland disagrees. He cannot understand why it was not spotted sooner.
A council spokesperson said it is legally required to ensure the bridge functioned. Once detailed assessments of its conditions have been made, the length of the extended repair works will be decided.
“Every day it’s shut, it’s costing the local economy and local businesses money,” said Independents for North East Lincolnshire Cllr Holland. “I don’t accept the fact that it could not have been foreseen. The deterioration of the bridge was well-known from reports issued in 2018 and within the tender documents.”
“My biggest problem is it took until October to announce the fact that it would not be open before Christmas, but also there would be no new opening date at all.”
“Why wasn't the first thing done the inspection of the spans?” He argued it could have been assessed in spring. “I can’t understand why the inspection of those units wasn’t conducted in April so that a plan could have been put forward at that time.”
With the twelve weeks assessments announced as required last month, he accepted the council now had no choice with the delay. “I think the project’s been badly managed,” he said, adding: “We’re told the project is behind on a number of fronts and the contract may have to put additional resources, why weren’t they doing this in the summer?”
The council’s delivery partner Equans is managing the project on the local authority’s behalf. The contractor Spencer Group is working several weekends from now to the end of December to take advantage of low tides and access the bridge’s underside.
The contract was split in two parts, the first with a detailed working plan set out, reported Cllr Holland. He suggested it “should have made it clear when all those units were going to be inspected”.
Cllr Holland said at this month’s Economy Scrutiny Panel, it was confirmed first knowledge of possible worse conditions emerged from mid-August. “The re-opening date will not be announced until quarter one, 2024”, potentially as late as March.
The council has previously said only with unrestricted access, after paintwork was stripped and bare steel removed, were the contractors able to fully understand the condition of span one. Historic England and Grimsby, Cleethorpes and District Civic Society are also supportive of the restoration work.
North East Lincolnshire Council’s spokesperson reiterated the legal requirement to repair the bridge, given its listed status, and as a council listed structure at risk. “As part of its Grade II listed heritage status, it is important the bridge remains functioning, and the mechanics are in full operation to ensure the council is satisfying the statutory obligations.
They continued: “With this in mind, it is appropriate and right to repair and restore every element of the bridge’s structure. The council is legally obligated to make sure the bridge remains functioning, and the mechanics are in full operation – this includes the lifting mechanism.”
“Considering all of the above, the authority confirms again that it remains committed to the preservation of Corporation Road Bridge and will assess and accommodate the extra work that is required to ensure it is there for generations to come to observe and enjoy.”
“Only when the results of the detailed assessments have been returned and the condition established will Spencer Group, Equans and North East Lincolnshire Council be able to determine the extension in the programme required for the works. Please be assured further updates will be provided once there is a clearer understanding of timescales.”
Cllr Holland supported a review to avoid issues with other infrastructure projects in the borough in coming years. “Obviously, they need to learn the lessons from what went wrong here for future projects.”