Poole's Twin Sails bridge problems 'not acceptable'

Surface missing on the Twin Sails Bridge in Poole
Image caption Sections of the surface fell off both sides of the bridge while it was raised

For more than 30 years Poole residents have waited for their new harbour crossing.

The rocky road of planning it initially began in the 1980s but the proposals were then dropped in the 1990s, only to be resurrected in 2000.

Another 12 years has since passed and, at last, on 27 February the final opening of the new Twin Sails Bridge to traffic was set to take place.

But that never happened.

According to the borough council there were some "small glitches" that needed to be sorted first.

People were told the bridge would definitely open to motorists by the official opening ceremony on 9 March - or even sooner.

But with just hours to go to the event it became clear the new landmark structure - designed to mimic the sails of a yacht and expected to become a symbol of Poole - would remain shut.

Celebrating old bridge

Council officials remained tight-lipped about what the problems were but said they were being assessed and sorted.

They also now decided to point out the celebrations were not actually to mark the opening of the new bridge but rather to celebrate the 85th anniversary of the opening of the town's current lifting bridge.

Image caption No specific date has been given for the opening of the bridge and work could take weeks

That Friday night Poole celebrated and thousands of people turned out to take part.

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra played, a choir performed and a flotilla of boats passed through the illuminated bridge during a ceremonial lifting of the leaves.

Although many undoubtedly expected to be walking across the new bridge, it remained closed.

What the problems were then finally became clear on Monday, when part of the road surface on both lifting leaves fell off overnight when the bridge was raised.

This happened just hours before The Princess Royal arrived for a long-planned celebratory visit.

But the celebrations went on, she arrived and was driven across the new bridge. But it remained shut.

Fred Winwood, former Poole mayor and chairman of Hamside Residents' Association, says the whole saga had been an "embarrassment".

"It's sad really," he says with a sigh.

"People expected such a great opening and had waited so long for this and there was so much hype about it.

"Then we have a serious problem like this.

"Everybody is bitterly disappointed and it's so embarrassing that we have royalty down and then this happens.

"It's really not acceptable.

'Work not monitored'

Mr Winwood, a retired engineer, says it is also worrying not knowing whether it could be the actual movement of the bridge that had caused the problem, or if it was down to bad workmanship or using the wrong materials.

"In fairness [the council] has employed hi-tech guys, specialists, to do this job and you expect the highest standards," he says.

"What I can't understand is how they could be left to self-monitoring.

"It used to be that the work was inspected at various stages.

"These days they just seem to wait until the job's done."

Mr Winwood says there have also been many other issues with the surrounding infrastructure, such as pedestrian walkways which were too narrow for wheelchairs or prams to meet.

Image caption About 2,000 people attended the official opening ceremony on 9 March

He said this was pointed out to the council at an early stage and the plans were changed.

"Then now these problems with the bridge itself - it's just the icing on the cake," he added.

Jim Bright, strategic director at Borough of Poole, said: "It is disappointing that this setback should occur at the end of a successful construction project that will deliver huge benefits to Poole.

"The council and its contractor share the frustrations of everyone who wants to see the Twin Sails Bridge open to traffic at the earliest opportunity.

"However, a short delay to resolve these outstanding issues now, when the bridge is not yet open to traffic, is preferable to causing disruption by closing the bridge at a later date."

The contractor, Hochtief Construction Ltd, says it does not know what caused the surface to break up.

Richard Bruten, project manager, said: "We've got the suppliers doing checks, various laboratories carrying out checks too on the various materials and the various layers of it.

"There's no reason it should have failed.

"We don't know yet why [it did]. We are carrying out investigations."

In the meantime the Twin Sails Bridge remains a building site - nobody seems to be able to give a definitive answer to the question of when it will open.

Mr Bright said the remedial work may take "some days" but it could also be weeks.

Having waited more than 30 years for a second crossing, it looks as if the people of Poole will have to wait a bit longer still.

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