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Debate Landmark bridges

How much should we spend on our landmark bridges and footbridges? Should we treat them as luxury utilities with costs factored up from basic versions of the same bridge, or should they be considered as works of art, where money is no object?

This week we ask: Are we paying too much for our landmark bridges?


The question has been brought into focus by two new footbridges, one completed and one under construction over the Thames in London.

The Millennium bridge is a very beautiful structure and, once the cost and its dynamic difficulties have been forgotten, will bring great credit to its designers and owner. I am sincere in my admiration.

However, the bridge, which is about 300m long and 4m wide, has cost in the region of £20M.

The planned Hungerford footbridge is reported to cost over £40M. For this sum one could probably renew the Hungerford rail bridge itself, incorporating footpaths!

A talented designer should be able to build a beautiful, well finished and structurally expressive bridge on this site for £6M.

A basic short span footbridge costs about £1,000/m2. To transform such a bridge into a carefully designed, well finished, expressive structure probably costs a further £1,000-£1,500/m2. For instance, Robert Benaim & Associates' competition winning Oldham footbridges, which are entirely enclosed in glass, cost about £2,500/m 2. Of course, these are short span bridges over land.

A footbridge across the Thames at Bankside, built as the result of a competitive design and build tender seeking the cheapest option, would take into account the difficulties of the site. This would be expected to cost about £2,000-£3,000/m2, valuing the bridge at about £3M.

This would probably have produced a rather brutal structure, not necessarily well adapted to the site and with functional handrails and finishings.

It would of course be unacceptable to build a crude structure in such an important location. But I would expect that a talented designer should be able to build a beautiful, well finished and structurally expressive bridge on this site for an additional £2,000/m2. However, the Millennium bridge cost about £15,000/m2 and Hungerford probably even more.

I am sure we do not need to spend that amount of money to obtain a top class design.

These projects may be considered to be symptomatic of a progressive society which is prepared to spend freely to encourage the arts, or more likely, a materialistic society that judges value by cost.


The Millennium Commission has funded a wide range of schemes - 27 of which feature bridges, whether in their own right or as elements of larger projects.

These projects range from the large such as the Millennium bridge (£19.7M) to the small such as the glass footbridge at the Phoenix project in Coventry (£630,000).

The Commission did not set out specific criteria for its projects. A great many organisations and local authorities came forward independently with applications for bridges. Southwark Borough Council has fulfilled a long held desire to provide a pedestrian link between Southwark and the City of London with all the regeneration benefits that it should bring.

Gateshead Metropolitan Borough Council decided that a new footbridge was needed to improve access to the many new cultural facilities springing up on both sides of the Tyne and took the bold decision to commission the world's first rotating bridge.

The Millennium and Hungerford bridges are certainly more expensive than simply designed river crossings - but they are located in particularly sensitive areas where the effects of construction on the environment and other transport systems are extremely complicated.

This can also be said to be the case for many of the bridges we have supported but most of the organisations which have succeeded in gaining access to our funds have used them to create a feature structure for the Millennium year, rather than something purely functional.

This does not mean expensive in every case. For example, the Torrs Millennium walkway, which won this year's BCIA small project award, cost only £525,000 and is 160M long.

Gaining access to Millennium Commission funds has enabled the ideas and visions of applicants to be realised. As a result architects and engineers have been allowed the freedom to push the boundaries of design and creativity, benefiting the construction industry in the UK.

The facts

London's Millennium bridge will cost around £23M once modifications have been made to stop it wobbling. Of this the Lottery has funded £7.6M.

The bridge is 330m long, 4m wide and is the first new bridge over the Thames since the Tower Bridge in 1894.

Gateshead's Millennium bridge is costing £22M for a 105m span footbridge across the Tyne with a maximum headroom of 25m midspan when open.

The Millennium Commission is part funding the scheme.

Hungerford footbridge client Cross River Partnership has re-let the contract to build the twin span 300m Thames crossing after costs escalated from around £21M to nearly £40M.

The Millennium Commission estimates that 6.7M people have so far visited projects that it has played a part in funding. It has spent around £2bn on projects in the UK.

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