Select Committee on Tamar Bridge Bill Special Report


9 July 1998

  From the Select Committee on the Tamar Bridge Bill



  1.    The Committee has met and has considered the Tamar Bridge Bill and one Petition, from Transport 2000 Plymouth and District Group, against it.

  2.    The Committee sat for three days, and heard evidence and submissions on behalf of the Promoters and the Petitioners.

  3.    The Tamar Bridge is a suspension bridge linking the city of Plymouth and south-west Devon with Saltash and Cornwall. It runs beside the famous railway bridge built by Brunel. The Tamar Bridge, which was built under powers contained in the Tamar Bridge Act 1957, is the main road link in the area. It is looked after by a joint committee composed of representatives of Plymouth City Council and Cornwall County Council. These two local Authorities are the promoters of the present Private Bill.

  4.    The two Authorities also have responsibility for the Torpoint ferry. At present this ferry can only accommodate 300 vehicles per peak hour. There is a separate proposal to upgrade the ferry to accommodate 500 vehicles per peak hour.

  5.    The traffic flows across the Tamar Bridge are substantially greater than those carried by the Torpoint ferry. The morning peak crossing on the Bridge is 2,500 vehicles per hour. The average week day flow is 38,200 and the summer week day flow is 42,900.

  6.    The Bill empowers the Authorities to strengthen the Bridge and to widen and improve the Bridge and the roads giving access to the Bridge. As part of the improvement the Bill authorises the construction of a separate cycletrack and footway. It also authorises incidental and supplementary works and includes provision for the purchase of land for those purposes. The Bill makes financial provision with respect to application of revenue of the undertaking. It also amends certain provisions of the 1957 Act. It gives the Authorities power to promote the Bridge and the ferry and to provide certain facilities.

  7.    The main reason for the Bill is to seek the powers necessary to upgrade the existing bridge to accommodate new European standards for heavy lorries, where 40 metric tonnes will be the standard from 1 January 1999. The maximum weight of lorry that should be accommodated across the Tamar Bridge currently is 38 tonnes.

  8.    As part of the exercise of upgrading the Bridge it is proposed to add cantilevers to the north and the south sides. The cost of the project has been estimated at £30 million, raised from tolls paid by car and lorry drivers. No tolls are to be paid by pedestrians, cyclists or buses.

The instruction to the Committee

  9.    The Bill has already completed all its stages in the House of Commons. After the Bill received its Second Reading in the House of Lords the House agreed to an instruction to the Select Committee "that they should consider whether the transport needs of the area could be achieved at a lower cost by strengthening the existing bridge without widening it."

  10.    In considering this instruction we took account, inter alia, of the following transport needs:

  11.    During the course of the Committee's proceedings both parties were in agreement that the bridge needed to be both strengthened and widened so that it could carry 40-tonne lorries. We agree with the promoters that it would be damaging to the local economy - which in south-east Cornwall is especially vulnerable - if there were to be a weight restriction across the Tamar Bridge.

  12.    At present the Tamar Bridge has three rather narrow lanes, with narrow pedestrian footways. We saw video evidence which illustrated how some cyclists, rather than competing with cars, buses and lorries on the vehicle lanes, use the pedestrian footways, presumably for safety reasons. Particularly at peak times, the journey across the Bridge must sometimes be at best an unpleasant experience, and at worst a somewhat perilous one for pedestrians and cyclists. When the widening process is complete the southern cantilever will provide dedicated foot and cycle ways, which the Committee considers to represent a considerable improvement on the status quo for both pedestrians and cyclists.

  13.    The Bill allows the promoters to sever footpaths across the Bridge during the construction works. However, the promoters have undertaken to provide a free shuttle bus service across the Bridge, on a 24-hour basis. This service will include a trailer for carrying bicycles. We consider that this service should enable the transport needs of pedestrians and cyclists to be met throughout the construction works.

  14.    As to other bus services, at present buses compete with other traffic on the three-lane Bridge. When the construction works are completed buses will have a dedicated lane. This is likely to make bus travel more attractive than it is at present, and we thus consider it to represent an improvement for bus passengers.

  15.    Car users will also benefit from improved traffic flows across the widened Bridge. There may also be an improvement in air quality from a reduction in exhaust pollution from slow-moving traffic. Traffic flow will, however, still be constrained by the three-lane tunnel on the A38 west of the Bridge; for structural reasons it is not possible to increase the number of lanes in this tunnel. Whilst it is impossible to predict with absolute accuracy what will be the effect of the Bridge widening on car use, the continuing constraint of the tunnel may provide a check on car traffic flow in the area to the west of the Bridge, and thereby encourage some potential car users to make use of alternative means of transport.

  16.    In order to reduce car use, the petitioners were keen for the planned provision of a park and ride scheme to be accelerated. In this context, we note that both Cornwall County Council and Plymouth County Council have expressed their "eagerness ... to implement a park and ride scheme at the earliest opportunity".[2] Clause 31 of the Bill provides the necessary powers for the Joint Authorities to contribute to the cost of park and ride.

  17.    Our final, over-riding consideration, for all who use the Bridge, has been that of public safety, both during the construction works and in the longer term. We have already mentioned the hazardous conditions which pedestrians and cyclists may face at present. For other road users, the turn-in from the local road on to the A38 going east at the north-western end of the Tamar Bridge is an accident blackspot. We hope that the dedicated eastbound carriageway on the northern cantilever of the widened Bridge will reduce the number of road accidents substantially.

  18.    We heard evidence from professionals in bridge construction and highways and traffic management that without the widening of the Bridge as part of the strengthening construction works major traffic hold ups would occur, causing significant economic costs to the local economy, as well as increases in air pollution and the risks of increased traffic accidents.

  19.    We have concluded that the transport needs of the area could not be achieved at a lower cost by strengthening the existing bridge without widening it.


  20.    The Committee is of the opinion that the Bill should proceed with the amendments submitted to them by the Promoters.

1  Approximately 75 per cent of traffic using the Tamar Bridge is locally based. Back

2  Letter from Sharpe Pritchard, parliamentary agent for the promoters, to Mr Stephen Joseph, Director of Transport 2000 Limited, dated 5 June 1998. Back

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