Express & Star

Decision to delay bridge and boardwalk repairs questioned

A decision by senior councillors to delay replacing bridges and a boardwalk in Cannock Chase has been called into question.

The closed boardwalk in Rugeley town centre in 2019. Photo courtesy of Olivia Lyons

Cannock Chase Council’s cabinet agreed to defer work on replacing bridges at Anglesey Nature Reserve and Rawnsley Woods. as well as the boardwalk in Rugeley town centre, because the funding needed would be more than the £110,000 currently budgeted.

But the decision, made during a private cabinet session last month, was called in for further discussion by Councillor Andrea Muckley. She was backed by fellow councillors Darren Foley, Jo Elson, Gerald Molineux and Paul Woodhead.

They said: “First, we do not consider that this matter needs to be confidential. We seek officers’ advice on why this discussion and decision was deemed to be so.

“We are extremely concerned about the proposal to pause works, which were agreed initially in February 2021 by the previous administration and confirmed, by the current administration, to take place during the current financial year (2022/23). Investigatory work on the costs and feasibility of replacing the two bridges and one boardwalk mentioned was carried out, which lead to the allocation of £110,000 in this year’s budget by the current administration.

“The administration’s dither and delay has led to this work not being brought forward in a timely manner, meaning the budget allocated is now substantially insufficient due to the huge levels of inflation the UK has experienced. The longer this delay continues, the longer residents will have to put up with poor accessibility in our nature reserves, green spaces and in Rugeley town centre.

“Previously, councillors have suggested that a more basic specification for these works would reduce costs whilst simultaneously meeting the needs of residents. This was dismissed – a decision we feel must now be reconsidered.

“We propose, for example, that a concrete culvert covered with soil would be an entirely adequate and long-lasting alternative to the proposed material of recycled plastic for the two bridges. We would be grateful to see the proposal and quotes as £35,000 for a bridge to cover a six-foot gap seems wildly disproportionate when we consider our role as guardians of the public purse.”

Members of the Responsible Council Scrutiny Committee, which considered the call-in on Monday, were told that the cabinet report had been dealt with confidentially because it contained commercially-sensitive information.

In 2019 Conservative councillors in Rugeley called on the Labour administration of the district council to take urgent action to repair the boardwalk, which linked Brook Square to Albion Street before its closure in 2018. Areas of rot and erosion were found during remedial works carried out after the collapse of stepped staging.

Councillor Muckley said there were previously two bridges in Rawnsley Woods, which helped to connect the two villages of Rawnsley and Hazelslade. She added that the last bridge was removed in July 2020 and in February 2021 £346,000 was earmarked for replacement of bridges and the boardwalk, which was later reduced.

“The two villages are next to each other but separated because of the old mineral line”, she said.”The (last) bridge was removed two and a half years ago.

“A lot of people used it to get to school or walk their dogs, it was a safe way to walk from A to B. But without either of the bridges people are forced to go the long way round.”

Councillor Robert Hughes, cabinet member for innovation and resources, responded: “The council is liable for the safety of the bridge and we need a design that’s safe for residents to use. In terms of maintenance, that’s an ongoing bugbear of mine.

“Councillor Muckley will be aware of the situation the council is in with its assets. There are issues with the old maintenance of assets going back many years.

“We are in the position we are that these things need to be replaced in a way that’s safe, practicable and easily managed. Unfortunately these costs are very high.

“Rugeley Boardwalk is in my local town and I signed that letter to the previous administration. I want that fixed but we are in a position where it’s too expensive.

“We are guardians of the public purse as you put in your call-in and from our perspective it’s too expensive now. We are monitoring the situation and hopefully we can achieve a solution or market conditions can be more favourable.”

Cabinet members agreed last month to defer works on the boardwalk and bridges, pending a review of market conditions, inflation and construction costs to be carried out by the end of this year.

But it was suggested at Monday’s meeting the three projects could be “decoupled”, to enable work on at least one of the areas to be carried out using the existing budget, and committee members voted to refer the decision back to the cabinet.

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