POLITICIANS from all sides have insisted that Middlesbrough’s iconic Transporter Bridge must be preserved as a river crossing for future generations.
The 109-year-old structure was closed in the summer of 2019 and hasn’t opened since after stretched cables on the gondola were uncovered.
Now Middlesbrough Council is mulling over options for its future – including a £4m plan to retire the bridge from carrying traffic by converting it into a visitor attraction.
Council leaders are set to put an extra £655,000 towards urgent repairs on the Transporter this month before a consultation is launched on whether it should open again. Officials say the full cost of reopening the bridge to traffic at rush hour could come to more than £7m in the next decade.
But speaking today, Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said: “We must keep the Transporter Bridge moving.”
“If there is one iconic image that symbolises Middlesbrough and Teesside more than any other, it is our Transporter Bridge.”
“It shouldn’t just be regarded as a relic of our past destined only to be seen moving in ageing video footage, the Transporter Bridge has been an important crossing over the Tees for more than 100 years and should remain so now and into the future.
While it has been out of use, many people based in Hartlepool, Port Clarence and other areas north of the Tees have been greatly frustrated by the lack of transport across the river. We must maintain that connection.
“On the council’s figures, and given its importance to the region as well as the town, I see no reason why this money shouldn’t be spent to allow us to keep people moving across the Tees.
“Until it shut in 2019, the Transporter was the longest working bridge of its kind in the world, and it would be wrong for that to come to an end now.”
Labour’s candidate for Tees Valley Mayor Jessie Joe Jacobs said the bridge “absolutely must be saved as both a working crossing and an important heritage site”.
She added: “To consider any other option would only serve to further cut off communities like Port Clarence – an area already badly served by poor public transport – from other parts of the Tees Valley.
“Understandably Middlesbrough Council are considering how far their finances can go after facing year upon year of government cuts.
“But when looking at the future of the Transporter, I’d appeal to its Mayor and Executive to consider the social and economic good of keeping the bridge working in any decision.
“Ensuring every community is served by good public transport would be a key priority if I was elected Tees Valley Mayor next May. From day one – and after years of being short changed by a London-biased government – I will call on the Government to remember the North and give the Tees Valley the transport spending it deserves, properly supporting our public transport aspirations. That means better buses, better rail links, and a new Tees Crossing which will increase connectivity from Hartlepool to Middlesbrough.
“I would also work with our Council leaders to put in place a strategy to bring in heritage funding, and ensure our Transporter Bridge continues to serve our communities.”
Middlesbrough’s deputy mayor Antony High voiced his own doubts about turning the Transporter into a visitor attraction. He said: “I will make a promise to the people of Middlesbrough to do my best to keep our pride and joy in action.
“While it is obvious that the bridge is now nearing 110 years old and is well past its best, I don’t believe that should be the reason for us to stand back and watch it finally come to a devastating standstill.
“The Transporter Bridge is our town’s iconic beacon of pride – and while there is still a glimmer of hope that it can continue to serve the people of Middlesbrough, and wider Teesside, I will keep pushing for an outcome that keeps it in action.”
Conservative MPs Simon Clarke, for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, and Redcar’s Jacob Young, also called for the Transporter Bridge to be saved “to ensure that it stands as a symbol of Teesside for future generations”.
Middlesbrough Mayor Andy Preston said: “The Transporter Bridge is part of who we are and we will always preserve and protect this special part of Teesside.
“Exactly what role it will play for the next 100 years is a decision we should all consider together.”
The council has already put £377,000 towards making the bridge safe, parking the gondola and carrying out inspections.
A stark presentation to go before the corporate affairs and audit committee next week has revealed considerable cause for concern and a raft of failings in the maintenance of the steel structure. Health and safety worries about the overall maintenance and management of the bridge were sent to the council’s internal auditor in August last year. And a subsequent probe by auditors found cause for considerable concern.
The investigation found “mostly passive and ineffective” management of the bridge in the past decade. And it ruled a lack of specifically qualified or trained engineering staff ultimately led the bridge deteriorating to become a health and safety risk. As a result of the failures, officials say the council is lining up a review of its system for assessing other buildings and structures.
Work was carried out on the Grade II-listed bridge in 2012 after cracks were found in the rail tracks on the upper booms of the structure.