No fanfares, no flags, no fun, no welcoming speeches of delight.
Marlborough’s new million pound Pewsey Road bridge, the bane of business and residents’ lives since May last year when traffic chaos hit the town, finally opened yesterday (Thursday) lunchtime.
More than 100 traders were emailed by the Chamber of Commerce and invited to be there at 8am when a BBC radio team was due to be present to record the occasion – and people’s reactions to a controversial scheme shopkeepers claimed to cost at least £200,000 a week.
Nick Fogg, former Marlborough mayor and a member of Wiltshire Council, which paid for the project, was there to welcome cars cross the River Kennet two-way once again and give it his local government blessing.
But he was politely told that the opening had been delayed – until 6pm.
Yet, when a reporter and photographer from Marlborough News Online returned 10 hours later, they again found the bridge deserted – because it had already quietly opened at lunch time and traffic was running smoothly.
Perhaps Wiltshire didn’t want to make a fuss given all the ill-will the replacement project created. It was carried out by contractors Osborne after the old bridge, built circa 1925, had been assessed as sub-standard because the steel reinforcement within its concrete frame had rusted badly.
Traders declared that the economic impact of the road’s closure had never been considered by Wiltshire Council, which said they could claim a reduction in their business rates, a fact that proved untrue.
And nobody had the nerve to challenge the council in court with a claim for compensation.
But, as Mr Fogg declared: “The council’s down in Trowbridge and to them this is some insignificant bridge in an obscure part of the county – and it’s been a bit of an embarrassment to them.
“They obviously didn’t want any more publicity. For them, it’s been something of a bridge too far.”
Meanwhile, we can reveal that this is not the first time that the Pewsey Road bridge has been the centre of……….
Dr Peter Davison, the celebrated George Orwell guru who lives in Marlborough, tells us:
“After almost a year of diversions, disturbance, and loss of trade to Marlborough, it looks as if Pewsey Road bridge is almost finished – at heaven knows what cost”.
“It so happens that I am at this time reading Bill Bryson’s At Home: A Short History of Private Life, published last year. His first chapter starts with an interesting story that makes a striking comparison with the bridge saga. ‘In the autumn of 1850, in Hyde Park in London, there arose a most extraordinary structure’. It covered nineteen acres and had ‘enough room for four St Paul’s Cathedrals’ and there was an avenue of full-grown elms within it”.
“At the time it was the biggest building on earth, so a mite larger and more imposing than Pewsey Road Bridge. This was the Palace of the Great Exhibition, opened in 1851. It was 1,851 feet in length, so celebarating the year of the opening of the Exhibition, 408 feet across and some 110 feet in height”.
“It required nearly 300,000 panes of glass and its final cost was £80,000 – something like £4,500,000 in today’s inflated currency. Punch dubbed it ‘The Crystal Palace’ and the name stuck”.
“The exhibition ran for only six months and then the whole structure was taken down and rebuilt in a different configuration in south London, near Penge. I am old enough to have seen it burn down in 1936 but, of course, the name given it by Punch has survived for that part of London and a football team.”
Dr Davison adds: “I don’t know what will be the cost of Pewsey Road bridge but at least in one important respect, in addition to its size and magnificence, the Crystal Palace can beat the building of the new bridge hands down”.
“According to Mr Bryson, ‘It had taken just five months to build’”.
Wiltshire Council has never revealed in any of its progress and press reports on the bridge project actually how much it is costing – and whether delays have caused any additional fees.