Is the pedestrian safety barrier over the bridge in Buckingham too low?

Concern has been raised about the safety of the footbridge on Bridge Street in Buckingham following recently completed maintenance work.

Residents mentioned the issue to this reporter in the town centre last week, and a subsequent investigation has revealed that the pedestrian parapet on the bridge – the barrier that prevents people from falling off the bridge and into the river – is almost a foot lower than industry standards.

Bridge on Bridge Street in Buckingham

Bridge on Bridge Street in Buckingham

British Standards Institution (BSI), the national standards body of the United Kingdom, appointed by the Government, state that a pedestrian parapet over a footbridge should be at least 115cm. As the photo evidence shows, the parapet over the bridge in Buckingham is 86.4cm.

Town Councillor Robin Stuchbury said: “I'm certainly concerned about my constituents crossing the bridge safely while it isn't meeting modern standards.”

Some residents pointed out the close proximity of various Public Houses to the bridge, only half-jokingly worrying that a few too many one evening could lead to someone toppling into the river.

The bridge, which was first constructed in 1936, runs over the River Great Ouse. It has had multiple major maintenance works carried out in its 83 year history but the most recent was arguably a good opportunity to bring it up to modern safety standards, particularly in light of the Head of Highways, Mark Averill, acknowledging to this paper that the Highways Authority knew the parapet was lower than industry guidelines.

Measuring the height of the parapet on the bridge in Buckingham

Measuring the height of the parapet on the bridge in Buckingham

In a statement he said: “The purpose of the maintenance work was to ensure that the structural elements of the bridge remain in good condition for the foreseeable future, it was not an exercise to bring the bridge up to modern standards. We are aware that the current parapet is low when compared to modern standards, however it remains at the same height as when originally constructed. Consideration was given to raising the handrail height, however the cost of doing so, when compared with the life expectancy of the structure, was considered too high, especially when there are other structures in the County that require urgent work.”

Some doubt resides over the height of the parapet before the recent maintenance work, with residents forwarding various theories - one suggesting that the path is now higher, thereby effectively making the parapet lower. A search of our photo archive does seem to lend some weight to this theory but we have been unable to obtain data to confirm it.

However, the Highways statement does appear to suggest that the Transport for Buckinghamshire decision to flout industry standards was a conscious, economic one.

County Councillor Charlie Clare believes there may also be an aesthetic angle to the parapet being historically low.

Parapet height is 86.4cm

Parapet height is 86.4cm

He said: “I imagine that the railings were originally kept low so that the footbridge didn’t impact on the aesthetic of the road bridge next to it. On the basis that the bridge has been used without incident for decades, I think that this is an issue of compliance, not safety. I am sure that there are several other historic structures in the town that don’t comply to modern safety standards, that we are safely using everyday. As the height of the railings had not previously been flagged as a problem to me – or as far as I can find out anyone else - I can’t find fault with the decision to invest that money in more obviously dangerous structures in the county.”

We would like to know your opinion. Do you think that the parapet is too low? Do you believe it is lower now than previously? Is it safe?

Email: sam.dean@jpimedia.co.uk

A comparison of the parapet between 2013 and 2019 may indicate that the path is now closer to the bottom of the railing

A comparison of the parapet between 2013 and 2019 may indicate that the path is now closer to the bottom of the railing