Last night, two officers from Salford City Council - Ben Dolan, Strategic Director of Salford Council, and Shoaib Mohammad, Head of Highways - faced up to local people at a packed meeting of the Irlam and Cadishead Community Committee, where fury was vented over traffic chaos and the non-opening of the Barton Lifting Bridge over the Manchester Ship Canal (for a full background see previous Salford Star article – click here and click here).
Salford Council and Peel Holdings have been at loggerheads over who will pay for the operation of the bridge, with Ben Dolan revealing at the meeting that the costs will be around £150,000 a year for repairs and maintenance, and likely to rise in the future.
With a further meeting between the Council and Peel scheduled for next week, Dolan couldn't offer any answers as to when the bridge would open... "We're hoping to find a resolution quickly" he said "The opening date is in the hands of Peel at the moment and they formally haven't notified the Council..."
One community member asked why a contract wasn't drawn up at the start of the process...
"Right from the outset of this project it was clear for the Council that it was Peel's responsibility" Dolan responded "...Peel, as far as I'm concerned, are saying that the Council gave some kind of undertaking. All I've seen is one letter which refers to highways infrastructure, and highways infrastructure is not the bridge, it's the highway..."
Dolan was asked if there's a Plan B if Peel refuse to open the bridge..."If necessary the Council will take appropriate legal action" he responded "We have instructed our lawyers to see what opportunities there are to get the bridge open as soon as we can."
He confirmed that Peel had discussed making the bridge into a toll but argued that it wasn't acceptable to the Council... "There's £30million public money in loans and grants in that bridge" he said "That means it's got to be open free of use for the public..."
He added that, in order for the bridge to be made a toll, there would be legal mechanisms Peel would have to go through, including paying back the public money; and that it would be opposed by both Salford Council and Trafford Council... "The Council would do everything in its power to stop any kind of application for a toll on the bridge."
In the meantime, Dolan said that the Council has proposed to Peel that the bridge be opened while the legal wrangle is sorted... "In our view there is nothing to stop the bridge from being opened and the Council is quite happy to sit down with Peel and talk..."
Both Dolan and Mohammad stated that, in the Council's opinion, the traffic chaos that is engulfing the area is linked directly to the non-opening of the bridge but members of the community were not convinced this was the solution.
If the bridge opening doesn't relive the congestion, the Council would have to go back to the drawing board, the meeting heard, but it was convinced that its traffic modelling was accurate.
Meanwhile, residents told of children missing half an hour a day at school through traffic problems, people being late for work and ambulances taking over an hour to arrive at the medical centre...
"As from this week we've had to put our fishery up for sale through this road" said the owner of Moss Farm Fisheries in Irlam "So whoever is in charge of it at Salford Council and the Highways can I say off me and my family, 'Thank you'..."
He got no response and walked out of the meeting in disgust.
The loudest cheer of the evening was in response to a woman who articulated the feelings of the residents... "I really feel that you're not listening" she told the Council reps "...That poor guy has lost a business...this hasn't just been going on for a few weeks this has been going on for months" she said.
"I've heard of countless people that have been warned in work because they're late on a regular basis" she added "Is anyone bothered? Because we should be...Peel Holdings has got the Council, putting it crudely, by the short and curlies; they are basically holding the Council to ransom and we're sitting here doing nothing about it...We need a road to get in and out of Irlam, it's been going on for thirty odd years, it's ridiculous..."
* Earlier in the meeting, Councillor Roger Jones had appealed to the community to sign a petition opposing Peel Holdings plans to build up to 1,400 houses on Boysnope Park Golf Course. To sign the petition – click here
The Irlam and Cadishead Community Committee Meeting was livestreamed by Salford Soapbox on its Facebook site – to view it click here
Photo by Steven Speed