Calls for robust plan for Leamington Lift bridge

The community has banded together to urge Scottish Canals to save one of the last remaining icons of Fountainbridge's industrial heritage.
The community has banded together to urge Scottish Canals to save one of the last remaining icons of Fountainbridge's industrial heritage.
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The community has banded together to urge Scottish Canals to save one of the last remaining icons of Fountainbridge’s industrial heritage.

Deterioration has hit the Leamington Lift bridge, which crosses the Union Canal from Leamington Road to Gilmore Park, forcing canal bosses to close the bridge.

Local groups, including the Fountainbridge Canalside Initiative (FCI), Re-Union Canal Boats, and Tollcross Community Council, have put pressure on the Scottish Government funded organisation to find a solution that will safeguard the future of the historic bridge.

The temporary closure – expected to last until Christmas – means that no boats can pass under the bridge although access to pedestrians and cyclists has been maintained.

Engineers who recently visited the site for a heritage assessment said there was significant corrosion within the lifting gear inside the towers.

Scottish Canals reassured the community that they were looking at all options to enable the safe re-opening of the bridge, with an anticipated cost of £250,000.

“I think the point that FCI would like to stress is that the deterioration of the lift-bridge illustrates a wider problem with the maintenance of Scotland’s canals,” said chairman Simon Braunholtz. “Volunteers locally have been trying to engage with Scottish Canals and with the Parliament to ensure a long-term commitment to our canal network – not simply for historic interest, but as an important asset.

“We are concerned that insufficient attention has been given to this which is resulting in expensive and disruptive closure of sections of the canals.”

Owners of The Counter coffee boat on the canal said the sporadic opening and closing of the footbridge was also affecting their business as it “significantly” diminished the amount of passing trade. Andrew Brough, chair of Tollcross Community Council said timing was also of the essence. “This vital and historic part of the canal, a local landmark is just too precious to let ongoing deterioration go un-repaired. We urge Scottish Canals to make good repairs now before it gets any worse.”

Scottish Canals said that they are continuing to work with contractors to develop and cost concepts for potential solutions ranging from replacing the bridge deck with a lighter alternative to incorporating a new lifting bridge within the current structure.

Local Green councillor and city canal champion Gavin Corbett said continued communication with the local community was vital.

He said: “The Lift Bridge is one of the most distinctive features of the Union Canal so there is real passion for it to continue as a working bridge. At the same time, boaters are understandably frustrated that the canal basin is blocked off.

“My own preference would be to see if we can upgrade the bridge for its 21st century use.

“That would mean keeping the Victorian structure but replacing the 40 tonne deck to something much lighter given that it no longer needs to take the weight of heavy good vehicles.

“That in turn would allow much lighter and more usable internal lifting equipment.

“It’s essential that Scottish Canals has regular communication with affected canal users until a solution is agreed and a timescale outlined. I’ll be working closely with them on that.”

The bridge was installed in 1893 to allow the flow of steam trains on top and the barges below but it became unpopular with pedestrians who had long waits while the bridge was raised and lowered. In 1907 the decorative lattice footbridge was added to allow people to cross when the lift was in operation.