Nearly a dozen bridges in Bedford are substandard

Charity says we are storing up trouble for the future as the weather gets more extreme

Friday, 5th February 2021, 12:33 pm

Nearly a dozen bridges in Bedford were deemed to be substandard last year, figures suggest.

That is according to analysis by motoring research charity the RAC Foundation, which has revealed more than 3,100 council-owned bridges across Britain cannot carry the heaviest vehicles as of October.

In Bedford, 11 bridges were found to be below standard as of October – around 5 per cent of the 233 managed by the council.

In Bedford, 11 bridges were found to be below standard as of October

This means they were unable to support the heaviest loads, such as lorries of up to 44 tonnes.

The council said it would ideally return all of them to full capacity – but due to budget restrictions only expects to do so with five over the next five years.

Bedford Today approached Bedford Borough Council for comment earlier this week.

There were 3,105 below-par bridges across Britain, according to the research – up from 3,055 a year earlier.

Many of the structures are subject to weight restrictions, while others are under programmes of increased monitoring or even managed decline.

The analysis is based on data provided by 199 councils responsible for 71,656 bridges, which means 4.3 per cent were substandard.

This could be because they were built to earlier design standards, while others have deteriorated through age and use.

Councils also reported that, at the time they responded in October last year, 10 bridges across Britain had fully collapsed in the previous 12 months, while a further 30 had partially collapsed.

RAC Foundation director Steve Gooding said: “We might not yet be at the stage where London Bridge has fallen down, as described in the nursery rhyme, but several other bridges across the country have suffered partial or total collapses.

“At the same time there has been a worrying decline in the number of inspections carried out to examine just how much damage rivers, and the debris they carry, are doing to bridges below the waterline.

“This is storing up trouble for the future as our weather gets more extreme and traffic volumes rise again after the Covid-19 restrictions.”

Across Britain, local authorities said they would ideally get 2,256 bridges back to full carrying capacity, but only expect to bring 392 up to scratch over the next five years.

The research was carried out in partnership with Adept, a group representing local authority bosses responsible for transport and other sectors.

Kevin Dentith, chairman of Adept's national bridges group, said: “Whilst the number of substandard bridges may appear worrying there is often a good reason why a bridge falls into this category.

“It does not mean the bridge is unsafe as it will be managed by the local authority, usually by a weight limit.”

But he added that councils would only be able to make 2,226 bridges fully functional again if they receive more government funding.

A Department for Transport spokeswoman said: “We are providing over £1.1billion in funding to local authorities in England, outside London, for highways maintenance this year to ensure infrastructure – including bridges – are maintained effectively.”