It was a day of winter gales blowing at speeds of up to 79mph Up North, floods in the North East, the North West and Wales, and snow in Scotland. Lorries were being blown over on motorways in Yorkshire and on the Forth Bridge and the Met Office was warning that it was "unwise to go out in any high-sided or light vehicles". Guess which day the Government chose to reopen the somewhat reinforced Millennium Bridge to the public!
|Beating the rush on a grey day.|
Photo Credit: Oliver Strange Agency
Yes, the Government has finally decided that the bridge is safe to use - but with a few reservations. There are large notices warning all users that they may find the motions of the bridge unsettling and those who turned up for the 10 a.m. reopening found that there is a £1 fee for using it.
The trustees of the £21.8 million bridge floated the idea of a fee last year, but the money was to be used to pay the wages of 'bridge marshals', who would control the number of people on the bridge. That idea has clearly been discarded in favour of a straight grab of the cash via automatic turnstiles, which regulate the human load on the bridge. Presumably, the marshals' wages will be used to help pay the additional £6 million blown on making the structure stable.
Critics have accused the Government of turning the bridge into a fairground-style novelty. Supporters of the bridge, who opposed its closure so vigorously, have accused its opponents of being moaning minnies. The reaction of the public in general, and visitors to the capital in particular, has been broadly favourable. Apart from some sniping about the £1 charge for using the bridge, after contributing to the £9.2 million which the bridge received from National Lottery funds, its users have reported that it is a very convenient and enjoyable way to cross the Thames.
"Hey, I'm on the bridge!" trilled mobile phone users as many of the people crossing it stopped to do a static version of the Twist to try to make it shimmy. The Millennium Bridge, now fitted with shock-absorbing dampers, refused to budge.
Both the designer and the architect of the bridge tried to gloss over its difficulties. Australian architect Foster Slager said, "When the bridge first opened, it had passed every test and complied with every regulation ever devised for bridges. It was never unsafe. The subsequent work was merely to address issues of user comfort." A spokesman for the bridge constructors added, "There's never been any question of blame. We said we would fix it and we have."
The present Chancellor, whose name still escapes most people, has denied accusations that he intends to follow the 'stealth tax' policy of his predecessor, George McDour, who was variously known as The Mugger and The Grim Reaper in the popular press.
"The 'purely nominal' £1 charge and the restrictions on the number of people using the bridge," the present Chancellor said yesterday, "are part of a necessary safety regime." His statement had a credibility rating of 50% in a straw poll held during the same afternoon.
filed by Maris O'Vishke [email@example.com]