Lovely engineering… but poor investment.

I was given a tip off this morning that the bridge across the river from Cathedral Green was due for its monthly test.  I was able to go down and watch it being swung.

It takes a while to close and open (or open and close, depending on one’s perspective as pedestrian or ship) so I had time to consider the background to it being there…

The city centre is well provided with bridges, with old St Mary’s Bridge and Causey Bridge just upstream, and Exeter Bridge then Holmes Bridge and the Telegraph Bridge downstream.  One might ask why the River Derwent needed a sixth bridge in less than a mile.

In essence it was the result of a Labour Government sweetener…

Back in 2004, the “Barker Review” identified a need for many more homes.  As a result the Labour Government asked for bids from council’s to become “Growth Points”.  Labour-run Derby, working with Nottingham (Labour) and Leicester (Lib Dem) put in a joint bid, commiting the three cities to find space for many tens of thousands more homes than those already being planned.  Only in Leicester’s case was this proposal made public.

The Government agreed the bid – and £3million was made available for a new bridge and refurbishment of Cathedral Green – and the Regional Plan was amended to add many more homes around the three cities…

This bridge had been one of several visionary ideas put forward by the now disbanded Derby Cityscape.  The public ‘consultation’ that had been done to share these ideas with people in Derby was a major plus in the acceptance of the bid.

Was this a wise way to spend money to prepare Derby for 10,000s of new homes and people?  It would not have been my priority.

There was no consultation with the public about what they thought might be important.  Or if they thought that an iconic bridge was a good exchange for more countryside around Derby being built upon…

Given that many of the homes were expected on the west of the city.   I’d have had different priorities:

  • Land for a major new park had been identified, but there was no money to buy it or landscape it.  £3million could have done this.
  • Traffic already constantly queued into the city at peak times.  £3million could have helped set up park and ride, improve cycle routes or bus provision.
  • Energy supplies would need to be increased.  £3million could have been invested in energy saving schemes or renewables to make Derby more resilient.

Incidentally the bridge swings to avoid restricting river flow in flood conditions, to reduce the risk of upstream flooding which would otherwise exist.  There was a choice of other imaginative bridges proposed as part of a competition, but this design was the unanimous choice of the selection committee.

I wrote up some thought on housing and the planning process at that time, which you are welcome to read.

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