£3m Humber Bridge raised safety barriers plan 'culmination of five year ambition'

-Credit: (Image: Humber Bridge Board)
-Credit: (Image: Humber Bridge Board)

The unveiled plans for heightened Humber Bridge walkway barriers are the "culmination of an ambition" for five years to improve public safety, Humber Bridge Board's chair Cllr Richard Hannigan has said.

Cllr Hannigan, also deputy leader of North Lincolnshire Council, confirmed he regarded it as a 'landmark day' in the bridge's history. The Humber Bridge is the UK's longest suspension bridge, and was the longest such bridge in the world when it opened in 1981.

Public safety has been a concern for many years, and in 2019, the Humber Bridge Board set itself the goal to make it safer. A feasibility study has finalised the preferred design for raised walkway barriers.

Read More:

These will be raised to a height of 2.7m, as vertical steel posts with horizontal wire are attached to existing barriers. Because of its historic status, the bridge is Grade I listed. As such, listed building consent is now to be sought from East Riding and North Lincolnshire councils.

A linear process, exact dates for works cannot be given yet. In an interview with the LDRS, Cllr Hannigan indicated the consent process is expected to take at least three or four months. "What we think is from that point onwards, we are looking in terms of around 18 months for completion," he said of the works.

The barriers will be heightened on both sides. Currently, pedestrians and cyclists can only cross on the western walkway side. "Once the works are complete, we'll do an assessment on the bridge, but our ambition is that both sides will be open, 24/7."

Humber Bridge Board has allocated £3m for the works. There will be no toll increases required. The same safety procedure will continue for assessment of the bridge's use by pedestrians and cyclists during stormier weather.

"In terms of traffic, there will be no disruption," Cllr Hannigan said, confirming there will be no lane closures required. "All of the construction will take place on the footways themselves. During that phase, parts of the footway will have to be closed."

It is expected the works will begin on one side and switch over to the other, so no disruption is anticipated for pedestrians and cyclists to cross the bridge, either. Asked whether he thought it was a landmark day for Humber Bridge, Cllr Hannigan said: "It is. It's the culmination of an ambition that we set five years ago. From my perspective, having worked in the emergency services for thirty-odd years, public safety's wired into my DNA.

"What we wanted as part of our bridge strategy that we reset in 2019 was that the bridge would be safe and accessible to everybody. This is a fundamental piece of work that will make sure that that ambition can be realised."

The feasibility study was carried out by the board's own engineers, and looked through a number of options. "There were many iterations of this design," said Cllr Hannigan, before explaining multiple factors had to be considered.

"For a start, the Humber Bridge is a listed structure, it was in 2017, we had to be very conscious of the visual impact of these works. Just as importantly, how the view from the bridge would be affected for bridge users.

"Another was the weight of any structure, how that would affect the bridge and the fact that any structure needed to be flexible to move with the bridge, because it's a moving, living beast. Finally, the aerodynamics, because when you've got a mile-and-a-half of bridge that's exposed to some fairly strong winds, we wanted to be absolutely assured that any works we did in terms of this barrier wouldn't destabilise the bridge.

Visual of the proposed raised barriers on the Humber Bridge
Visual of the proposed raised barriers on the Humber Bridge -Credit:Humber Bridge Board

"We've had wind tunnel testing of models to ensure the bridge structure won't be adversely affected by the new barriers." There has been wide consultation on the plans.

"Our first port of call was the mental health professionals and mental health charities. Humberside Police, who do attend incidents at the bridge, have been key consultees, as have Humberside Fire & Rescue Service. We wanted to ensure the new structure would not impede rescues, should that be necessary.

"It's been a wide consultation, the furthest wide we've done is with our wind tunnel testing, which took place in Canada, because that's where the expertise resides." Hull and East Yorkshire MIND and the Samaritans have been among those consulted, too.

Along with raising the walkway barrier heights, the bridge's maintenance gantries are also being removed. "Over many years, the maintenance gantries haven't been used. Modern regulation would actually forbid their use," said Cllr Hannigan, as protections would be needed not only for those using it, but also the environment below.

Another visual of what the 2.7m future barriers would look like
Another visual of what the 2.7m future barriers would look like -Credit:Humber Bridge Board

"So those maintenance gantries are completely redundant," he continued. "All that they do now is add to the weight and drag of the bridge, so removing them can only have a beneficial impact."

Cllr Hannigan emphasised the changes will benefit all. "One of the really important features of this is we're doing this piece of work for everybody. We see the bridge as an iconic structure, you even look at the media companies who use it as part of their image or their backdrop.

"We want people to be able to come here, enjoy it, and enjoy it safely. That was always in mind when we've put this and other projects together."

"There's no doubt about it, with the barrier design we intend to install, it makes general use for cyclists and pedestrians safer," he added.