GUIDED walks and a glass lift allowing visitors to get unrivalled views from the top of the Forth Bridge will go ahead regardless of whether the iconic structure wins world heritage status.
The plans unveiled yesterday by Network Rail will cost up to £15 million, with public access to the bridge to be available by 2015.
Community groups and political leaders today said the efforts to transform the landmark into a world-beating tourist attraction would go a long way to making sure the bridge is named a world heritage site in two years’ time.
A final submission is being prepared by Network Rail, Historic Scotland and Edinburgh City Council. The case will be helped with a visitor centre to be built into the base of the structure’s northern tower and for bridge climbs to start from a second base in South Queensferry.
Queensferry Community Council secretary Terry Airlie predicted the plans would “enhance” the chances of the bridge getting Unesco world heritage status.
However, he said: “Independently of whether world heritage status goes ahead or not, the Network Rail plans will go ahead.
“My understanding is that the primary focus will be on the development of the facility at the south end of the bridge because that is easier to get sorted out. The [walks] are far easier to get up and running by 2015. The piece on the north side of the bridge will perhaps take longer.”
Network Rail offices near the Dalmeny station will be converted into a base for guided walks of up to 15 people at a time.
Visitors will pay to climb to the top of the bridge’s south tower – 360 feet above sea level – via gantries and catwalks within the top cantilever.
Mr Airlie said money would have to be spent in South Queensferry on public transport links, signage, walkways and other infrastructure to cater for a predicted influx of hundreds of thousands of visitors.
He said longer, rather than more, trains would also be needed to serve Dalmeny station – close to the new centre on the Firth of Forth’s south side. “People will travel and they will have expectations,” he said.
A ScotRail spokeswoman said the train operator would be happy to discuss options on how to support plans to attract visitors to the Forth Bridge.
City transport vice-convener Cllr Jim Orr said improvements to cycle paths running from Roseburn to South Queensferry would help transport links.
“However, we would continue to monitor the adequacy of transport links this in liaison with local community groups,” he said.
Tourism agency VisitScotland has also flagged that extra hotels could be needed close to the bridge.
Regional director Manuela Calchini said: “The visitor status of the bridge will have a huge impact on the local area. It is one of the most iconic structures in the world and will undoubtedly provide a welcome boost for ambitions to achieve world heritage site status.”
City planning convener Cllr Ian Perry said: “Any additional infrastructure required due to an increase in the number of visitors in the area would be identified as the proposals are developed.”
The glass lift on the bridge’s northern tower will take passengers up to an aerial viewing platform. Disabled access will be available via the lift.