Exeter bridge inspections to return after ‘structural issues missed’

Regular detailed inspections of Exeter bridges will be reinstated after it was revealed some structures were shut when issues could have been spotted earlier. 

The city council is set to rubber-stamp spending £150,000 on the move over the next two years.

Historically, the 27 bridges the authority manages were subject to periodic visual structural inspections by a suitable qualified and experienced engineer.

But an Exeter City Council executive meeting last week was told that, following cuts to local authority budgets, a decision was made in 2010 to reduce these inspections to a level that means they have now effectively ceased.

Now, only simple visual inspections are being carried out by the engineering team, members heard.

However, David Bartram, director of environment and city management, said in a report these visual inspections are not sufficient to allow a judgement to be made on the structural condition of the bridge, allow a safety assessment, or to recommend remedial works.

He added: “Recent findings from inspections on several of our bridges – Mallison Bridge, Kings Arms Bridge, Salmonpool Bridge and North Street Bridge – have identified significant structural issues that have resulted in closure or major works being required.

“Had routine inspections been carried out, these issues would have been identified earlier and could potentially have been addressed sooner, and the necessary works better planned to minimise disruption and reputational damage to the council.

“Regular inspections of the bridges’ conditions allows unsafe structures to be repaired or closed before they pose a significant risk to the public.

“Additionally, these inspections allow early, preventative repair and maintenance work to be carried out.

“These works are typically far less disruptive and far cheaper in the long-run than reactive repair works, and help to prolong the life of the structure delaying the ultimate removal or replacement of the structure.”

Mr Bartram recommended that £150,000 – to cover the next two financial years – be set aside in the budgets to complete the programme of principal inspections on all city council-owned bridges.

He also said an additional ongoing annual budget of £40,000 from 2022/2023 should to created to fund a rolling programme of regular bridge inspections and to maintain this in perpetuity.

Mr Bartram added: “Regular inspections allow the degradation rate of the structure to be assessed, allowing identification of potential future issues and forward planning of major works and replacements.

“Again, this allows disruption to be minimised and for more cost-effective decisions to be made, and allows time for funding applications to be made to partnering authorities which can reduce cost to the city council.”

The proposal was unanimously backed by the executive.

Subject to full council approval on Tuesday, an initial catch-up project will be tendered as a single contract to carry out 23 principal inspections over the next two years.

High-risk bridges will be inspected in year one and lower-risk bridges in year two.

The North Street footbridge, Kings Arms bridge and Mallison Bridges do not require inspections, because they had one in 2019 in advance of planned repair works.

Cricklepit Bridge is currently being tendered separately as this is the responsibility of Exeter Canal and Quay Trust.

Once the principal inspections are brought up to date, a continuous programme will be maintained at six-year intervals, with general inspections every two years.

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