Fight for future of iconic bridge
Fight for future of iconic bridge

Fight for future of iconic bridge

IT IS ONE of the most iconic sights in Gwent, but the future of a much-loved structure could be secured thanks to a £10 million grant.

Newport’s historic Transporter Bridge is one of the most photographed structures in the city.

It was on September 12 1906 that the Transporter Bridge was opened by Godfrey Morgan, Viscount Tredegar.

Hundreds gathered to see the opening and to cross the river on the gondola and walk over the top of the bridge.

The bridge was designed by Ferdinand Arnodin and representatives from Newport Borough Council went to Rouen, in France to see his bridge there before they decided to have one in Newport.

Prior to this, a ferry operated between the banks of the Usk but in 1897 six men were drowned when the ferry was swamped by men travelling home.

The bridge is still an iconic sight on the city skyline – the towers stand 645 feet apart and rise 242 feet above road level.

In 1981 the bridge celebrated its 75th anniversary and obtained Grade II listed building status. Despite this, by 1985 its condition had deteriorated so much that it had to be closed on safety grounds.

Gwent County Council, obtained funds from CADW and the European Architectural Heritage Fund to restore the bridge, and in December 1995 it was reopened.

Following local government reorganisation, Newport County Borough Council gained ownership of the bridge and it remained as part of the city’s road structure.

The Transporter Bridge is now a Grade I listed structure.

More repairs were carried out ahead of the 2010 Ryder Cup, but money is needed to restore the gondola, repaint it and set up a new visitor centre.

Earlier this month we reported that Newport City Council are preparing a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for a grant of around £10 million to enable the work to be carried out.

At a council meeting on November 15 it was revealed that if the bid is successful, the council will be required to commit £1.25 million towards the scheme.

Council leader Cllr Debbie Wilcox said at the meeting: “We want to do all we can to keep what is an iconic landmark for Newport in good condition.”

“If we have to borrow the money we will find it because the Transporter Bridge is a Newport landmark.”

A council report said that the HLF fund is already oversubscribed with applications, and only about 30 per cent are successful.

Deputy council leader Cllr Mark Whitcutt has also backed the bid for funding.

He said: “It is the most important symbol that we have as a city.”

“We are custodians of it and we have a duty to ensure, so far as we can, that it is handed to future generations in an appropriate state.”

Chairman of the Friends of Newport Transporter Bridge, David Hando, said the funding would make a huge difference to the work of the group.

“It would be used to make sure the Transporter Bridge is in a safe condition for the next 20 years,” he said.

“The Friends run the visitor centre. When we have one or two people it’s fine but any more we can’t cope.

“The money would be used to demolish the tiny visitor centre to build a larger one which will enable the Friends of Newport Transporter Bridge to their job properly.

“That is to publicise the bridge, to meet groups and to host school groups. At the moment if a coach comes and lots of people want to go to the toilet then it’s impossible.

“It’s almost unique and it’s a remarkable structure and an important part of the industrial, maritime and social history of the city.”

For the bridge to be utilised as a tourist destination the visitor centre is an important part of the visitor experience.

A report presented to Newport City Council cabinet members said that centre does not have the space to gather 50 visitors to provide a short orientation talk and this is currently carried out on the coach prior to disembarkation.

It said: “Visitors come to see the bridge year round and there needs to be a more substantial interpretation experience for these visitors when bridge is not operating.”

Mr Hando said the funding is essential for the future of the Transporter Bridge.

“Some funding must be found from somewhere to ensure the bridge remains safe,” Mr Hando said. “It needs constant repair because it is rather exposed.”

“If the bid is unsuccessful the visitor centre will not be built.”

Funding will ensure that the bridge remains in working order. The work proposed replacement of corroded oblique stiffening cables on the main boom and replacement of the boom anchor cables that span the Southern Distributor Road.

There is also a plan for the reinstatement of a number of original decorative features that have been lost during unsympathetic repair works done in the past.

There are only seven operational transporter bridges in the world, including one other in the UK in Middlesbrough.

There are also two others in Germany, as well as one in Spain, Argentina and France.

There is also a disused transporter bridge in Warrington.

Mr Hando attended the International Congress of World Transporter Bridges in Buenos Aires, Argentina in October.

Before the visit Mr Hando met Newport County AFC players at the bridge and was given a signed County shirt which he then presented to the vice president of Club Atlético Boca Juniors, the leading football club in Argentina.

He said: “The main business was to further the plan to apply to UNESCO for the World Heritage Status held by the first ever Transporter Bridge in Bilbao, Spain, to be extended to the other seven remaining Bridges.

“That would have an important influence on tourism. It was a very good meeting of representatives of all the bridges and we got to know each other better.

“The Middlesbrough bridge is doing alright but the Warrington bridge is in dire need of preservation, it’s in a dire state.”

The group signed the Accord calling for UNESCO to extend the World Heritage Status and attended the historic re-opening of the Argentinian Transporter Bridge – Boca Bridge.

Mike Lewis, Culture and Community Learning Manager at Newport City Council said that the application will be made by the December 1 deadline.

A decision on the bid is likely to be made in June 2018. If it is successful the council will be required to submit a more detailed application, with the funds awarded in summer 2019 at the earliest.

There are three possible outcomes to the HLF funding application: outright rejection, an invitation to reapply in December 2018 or success and an invitation to proceed to stage two.

Although the Transporter Bridge is now closed for 2017 the year ahead could herald a brighter future for the bridge.

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