The Salford Star understands that both Salford City Council and Trafford Council are being held to ransom by Peel Holdings, which is refusing to open the new giant lifting bridge over the Manchester Ship Canal unless the councils agree to pay for its operation and maintenance.
The bridge, next to the M60 flyover at Barton near the Trafford Centre, was due to open this month, but it has been delayed while a huge legal wrangle is sorted out. Peel, apparently, is threatening to put a toll on the bridge unless it gets its own way.
The massive lifting bridge is supposed to ease congestion en route to the Trafford Centre, the AJ Bell Stadium and Port Salford, with a dual carriageway for cars and trucks, and designed to eventually accommodate a new extension for the Metrolink tram.
With a similar style to the Centenary Bridge that links Salford and Trafford further along the Manchester Ship Canal, it's supported by four 31 metre high concrete towers which 'lift' the bridge to allow ships as high as twenty metres to pass underneath. The opening has already been delayed after the structure collapsed during construction in May 2016.
"I can assure you that the City Council is one hundred per cent committed to seeing the opening of the new road and lifting bridge at the earliest possible date" Roger Jones, Irlam councillor and Salford Council's Executive Support for Transport told the Salford Star .
"Peel have now raised with Trafford and Salford the future liability issues for the road and bridge and of course that is now being dealt with by our legal representatives" he added
"As the Irlam Ward Councillor, I am well aware of the massive frustration of Eccles, Irlam and Cadishead residents with the traffic delays, and when the original lifting bridge collapsed that imposed a further twelve month delay which just added to the problems for local residents" he explained "It would be totally wrong, in my view, to have any further delays to this Peel/Hochtief road/bridge scheme."
The bridge is part of the Western Infrastructure Western Gateway Infrastructure Scheme, or WGIS, that has been subsidised with over £30million of public money*...
£4million has come from a direct grant from Salford Council, which has also provided an £11million loan in 2012 which cost the Council £360,000 per year in repayments for the first five years. Further repayments of the £11million loan (with Peel paying the interest) were 'deferred' until 2021 earlier this year, due to delays caused by the collapse of the bridge.
Meanwhile, the Government's Department for Business Skills and Innovation's Regional Growth Fund has chipped in another £15million, and Europe's Trans-European Transport Network Executive Agency (TEN-T EA) handed over a grant of 998,125 euros for viability studies.
As part of that funding agreement, in 2012, Salford City Council entered into an agreement with Peel Investments (Intermediate) Limited over the bridge and related infrastructure, which is woolly to say the least.
Official documents state that "Salford City Council plan to adopt the highway relating to the works being performed by Peel on the Scheme" but then add "To ensure that the highway is constructed to a specified standard and to the satisfaction of the local highways authority to ensure that future maintenance liability for the highways is minimized, Salford City Council will enter into an agreement with Peel Investments (Intermediate) Ltd under sections 278 and 38 of the Highways Act 1980".
The risk to Salford Council was set at 'low', with officers stating "By entering into this agreement, and accepting payments from Peel Investments (Intermediate) Ltd, Salford City Council are reducing the risk of future problems and unexpected costs associated with the maintenance of the highway".
The Salford Star asked Highways England, which sits on the Port Salford Transportation Steering Group (PSTSG) with Salford Council, Trafford Council and Peel, if it knew what the hell was going on...
Has Highways England been involved in the legal wrangle? Does it have an opinion on who is liable for the bridge's operation and maintenance, and does it know when the thing might open?
A spokesperson for Highways England responded: "We have provided some technical advice to ensure the new bridge interacts with our roads effectively but do not have any responsibility for the operation or maintenance of the bridge itself."
The Salford Star also asked Trafford Council why the wrangle hadn't been sorted out earlier and whether it will be adopting the bridge or leaving it to Peel to run a toll...
A spokesperson responded: "We are working closely with Salford Council on the future liability of the road and bridge and hope both will soon be open to the public."
The Salford Star asked Peel Holdings to confirm that it was possibly looking to impose a toll on the lifting bridge and to comment on whether the company is holding the councils to ransom. Peel didn't respond.
* For full details of the public money loans and grants to Peel Holdings on WGIS, plus the jobs promised, see previous Salford Star article: Peel Holdings £31million Public Subsidy for Port Salford Ė click here
Photos by Steven Speed