Mersey Gateway Financial Close: The Bridge Odyssey
Cllr Tony McDermott MBE, Chair of the Mersey Gateway Group and former Leader of Halton Borough Council, takes a look back at the long journey that has led to work on the new bridge being given the go-ahead.
At last we are entering the home straight in our 20-year struggle to build a new crossing of the Mersey to link our twin towns.
The Mersey Gateway will be a towering piece of urban architecture. Could there be a more lasting and dramatic statement of the ambitions of our community?
Halton is one of the country’s smallest authorities but has always had a large capital programme. In my 40-years plus on Halton Council this is far and away the biggest project ever undertaken and it deserves some reflection.
I suppose it starts for me back in 1961 when, as a young student, I went to the opening of the Silver Jubilee Bridge. I had watched the wonderful superstructure for months as it rose into the skies. What a disappointment it was the first time I stepped onto the carriageway.
So narrow and inadequate for the future! Sure enough it soon had to be widened. Twice in fact, the most drastic being in 1977, hence the name of Silver Jubilee Bridge.
The first serious step towards a new bridge came in the early 90s with the Oscar Faber report which made a strong outline case for a new bridge – and ruled out ideas of a tunnel, a causeway or a crossing west of the present bridge — on environmental and economic grounds.
An agreed solution was still a long way off. We had to make the case and answer the question WHY?
The Mersey Gateway Group, which I chaired for 15 years, gathered the information and started to spread the word.
Just as importantly we gathered supporters – locally, regionally and nationally, in partnership with our steadfast and energetic MP.
We held meetings in Parliament, promotional events for the media and distributed over 100,000 leaflets to people and firms in Widnes and Runcorn, and were strongly supported by our neighbour authorities and by large firms such as Jaguar, Stobart and INEOS, as well as smaller local businesses.
Regionally, the project was made a priority and I was able, through my positions as Chair of the NW Transport Group and on the Board of the North West Development Agency, to make sure that it stayed high on everyone’s agenda.
There were many knock backs but we simply wouldn’t take no for an answer.
For 15 years we made the case and eventually won the argument.
Listing names runs the risk of causing offence by omission, but I need to mention, among others, my colleagues on Halton Council, two excellent Chief Execs David Parr and Mike Cuff, Ramboll’s design team, especially Ian Hunt and Claire Hall, Chris Taylor of communications agency DTW and of course Steve Nicholson our Project Director.
We are now entering a new and different phase – the construction phase. Rob Polhill and David Parr are leading and masterminding an Executive Board with a clear and exciting delivery plan.
It has been an exciting voyage. The new bridge will be a remarkable and lasting asset for the two towns and for the region.
A wonderful gateway is opening up to link north and south. And it’s happening here.
Cllr Tony McDermott MBE,
Chair, Mersey Gateway Group
Former Leader of Halton Borough Council