Loicher Bridge – January 2015 update

You may have been following the progress of the fate of Loicher Bridge (see News 14 November 2014 and 26 November 2014).

Briefly, Loicher Bridge is a vital link carring the Chapeltown Greenway (also known as the Blackburn Valley Cycle Route) over Loicher Lane (SK364943). This route isn’t complete yet, but will offer a traffic-free route between Chapeltown and Meadowhall – an important route for both leisure and employment. The route is being developed and improved by Sheffield City Council (SCC) before being handed back to its owners –  Sustrans.

In October, a CycleSheffield member alerted us that Loicher Bridge was going to be demolished:

…Loicher Lane bridge will be demolished (this is for financial reasons in the long term) and works done on the lane itself to provide a safer at grade crossing/access point…
[SCC email]

They wrote back questioning the decision, and were told:

…I completely agree with the fact that the bridge is a better alternative than an at grade crossing point. However, the scheme includes an access point and that cannot be safely achieved with the bridge abutment in place. Believe me, I have gone over countless options and none meet the necessary criteria for both design and safety.

The bridge span decking itself has been treated but the structural state of the bridge is poor and will require great expense even to keep in place, let alone replace.

By negotiation with local landowners we are in a position to improve sightlines all round to make the at grade crossing as save [sic] as possible. We will be including a speed limit reduction from the motorway bridge at 30mph, currently 60mph, and we are considering a point reduction to 20mph in the environs of the crossing…

Over the next few weeks CycleSheffield members pushed for more information about the decision to demolish the bridge, and on 18 November, council officer Brian Dalton reported to SCC Cycle Forum:

…Using current highway standards, it is not possible to make this access safe with the existing southern bridge abutment in place…
I have costed a replacement bridge and I am in the process of costing an at grade crossing point … I am leaning towards the no bridge option
…I have the written support of the Railway Paths bridge engineer for the removal of this bridge…

[full text in 26 November 2014 news item]

We were so alarmed at this and the refusal of SCC to provide more information, that on 13 November 2014 we felt compelled to submit a Freedom of Information request to get some answers.

From this we learned that:

  • Agreements/contracts/tenders/estimates made with landowners since 2010 concerning the Blackburn Valley cycle route have been verbal only
  • There are no recent (in past five years) structural reports, estimates, or documentation relating to the renovation of Loicher Bridge
  • There are no recent reports about safe access of Loicher Bridge
  • There are no recent costings for the demolition of Loicher Bridge
  • There are no recent costings for the replacement of Loicher Bridge
  • There are no recent costings for an at-grade crossing on the site of  Loicher Bridge

All somewhat at odds to the October email and November Cycle Forum report.

As a result of this, CycleSheffield felt compelled to negotiate directly with Sustrans, the Trans Pennine Trail and Railways Paths Ltd (RPL) – a Sustrans company that will ultimately undertake ownership and maintainence of Loicher Bridge.

Subsequently, in late December, Mike Babbitt, Sustrans Project Manager for Yorkshire & The Humber, and Paul Thomas, Bridge Engineer, RPL met with Brian Dalton of SCC. These were Mike Babbit’s comments to Brian Dalton as a result of that meeting.

As the available sight lines for the existing access ramp to the south west of the bridge are poor, we considered all of the following alternative options:

  1. Removing the bridge and abutments entirely to create an at-grade crossing of greenway and road.  It seems that the only reason known to me for this option is to improve the sightline for the SW access ramp.  Removal of the bridge would require a bridge demolition together with a huge amount of earth shifting/removal to level the railway with the road – this would be expensive. An acceptable at-grade crossing (i.e. with priority for greenway users) would also need to be created and, given Sustrans’ fruitless attempt to get a priority crossing installed at Grange Lane to the south, this would be expensive and/or deemed unacceptable by SCC.
  2. Installation of a new longer span cycle bridge at a raised height on wider abutments.  This option would also require a significant amount of earth shifting/removal, demolition and construction of at least one new abutment. A new steel bridge in itself would cost in the region of £30k and an added installation complication is the close proximity of the overhead cables. The gradient of the access ramp to the south west would need to be significantly improved to 1:20. This is therefore likely to be a very expensive option.
  3. Improve the existing bridge and provide an alternative acceptable access ramp to Loicher Lane.  It seems that the existing access ramp and its inherently difficult sightlines due to the existing bridge abutments and road curvature are the principle reasons for your suggestion of options 1 and 2. I described to you the seemingly feasible option of ramping down alongside Loicher Lane to the south east of the bridge to join the road around the southern site access to the east and you agreed to investigate this further. This would have the benefit of giving greenway users longer sight of the road as they travelled down the ramp to meet it at a less problematic point. A first objection to this may be that a cyclist cycling up the hill to join the greenway has to go further. Although this may be true, the height gain to get to the greenway is achieved using a kinder gradient overall. There is also the option of ramping down to the north west of the bridge and you agreed to investigate this further. The required works to the existing bridge would be to bring in the parapets to go on top of the edge beams and remove the timber walkways together with any other remedial works required by RPL. Appropriate bridge lead-in railings would be required to guide users across the bridge.

Mike commented further to CycleSheffield:

In my assessment of the above, option 1 is not an option due to the unlikelihood of achieving an acceptable at-grade crossing together with the likely high expense.  Option 2 would be acceptable to Sustrans (and probably RPL) but is likely to be very expensive.  Option 3 is acceptable provided that a safer access ramp can be provided and is likely to be the cheapest scheme.

From all this, you will see that CycleSheffield’s original assertion has been confirmed:
The best and cheapest option for Loicher Bridge is to renovate the bridge and install a revised access ramp.

This does however, leave a whole host of other questions unanswered:

  • Why council officers feel empowered to make verbal agreements with local landowners which involve demolition of major structures (which SCC doesn’t even own) without recourse to any other stakeholders
  • Why council officers can make statements both to CycleSheffield members and SCC Cycle Forum “Loicher Lane bridge will be demolished (this is for financial reasons in the long term)” “I have gone over countless options” “I have costed a replacement bridge” and imply that an at-grade crossing is viable, safer and cheaper, when none of these are true
  • Why council offers have been deliberately obstructive to what we consider are legitimate matters of public interest
  • Why CycleSheffield, the local cycling campaign and advocacy group, has to resort to Freedom of Information requests to get answers to these questions, and why there is a paucity of answers to these requests
  • Why CycleSheffield has been excluded from the development process for the Chapeltown Greenway
  • Why did CycleSheffield feel compelled to have to escalate their concerns to the ultimate owners of the Chapeltown Greenway – who subsequently offered solutions in line with CycleSheffield’s suggestions
  • Why CycleSheffield has again had to devote considerable volunteer resource into a project that should have been properly developed and managed by SCC

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