Bath and Wiltshire politicians have drawn a line under previous “bad blood” to tackle shared concerns about air quality.
The impending reopening of Cleveland Bridge following £3.8million repairs is set to see HGVs return to the city after a temporary weight limit is lifted.
A 2012 bid to permanently ban massive lorries from the Grade II*-listed structure was blocked by government after objections from neighbouring authorities but Bath and North East Somerset Council transport boss Manda Rigby wants to try again – citing Bath’s clean air zone, the climate emergency and improvements to the A350 among the circumstances that have changed since the previous attempt.
Bath MP Wera Hobhouse said a recent round table meeting was the first time Wiltshire Council leader Richard Clewer and Chippenham MP Michelle Donelan heard those arguments.
“Everybody has air pollution and heritage to protect but Bath is a World Heritage Site,” she said.
“In Westbury they have air pollution but in Bath we have illegal levels of air pollution. We have been mandated by government to stop the illegal levels of air pollution [through Bath’s clean air zone].
“It was their [the Conservatives in Wiltshire] government that instructed the council. The plan was done under the previous [Conservative B&NES Council] administration.
“We said we would draw a line under the bad blood.”
Mrs Hobhouse said Bath was grateful for the £3.5million grant to repair the bridge but the government did not realise how fragile it is, adding: “We might be here again in 10 years’ time, with all the disruption it causes.
“Do we need a bridge disaster like you see in other countries, where engineers say we warned you time and again?”
Councillor Kevin Guy, who leads B&NES Council, said Wiltshire Council agreed to work with it on submissions to a national review on strategic transport routes north and south that currently passes over Cleveland Bridge.
The report that follows is unlikely to be published until early 2023, and that is before funding is allocated or plans go out to consultation.
Cllr Guy said: “It may be 15 years before we get a long-term strategic transport solution. We need to find a short-term solution for Cleveland Bridge.”
Cllr Rigby said the new circumstances were “not a silver bullet but we have a lot more ammunition” to make the case again for a permanent weight limit and the council would use any and all mechanisms at its disposal to protect the bridge.
She also wants to press for more rail freight to cut the number of HGVs needed to move goods.
Cleveland Bridge was due to reopen in September, but now the plan is to have a staged re-opening starting this month.
Stephen Sumner, Local Democracy Reporter