How we did it ... Bootle footbridge aims to reinstate local pride

Project: The £750,000 Pennington Road footbridge connecting old and new residential developments in Bootle, Merseyside.

Pennington footbridge
Pennington footbridge

Background: There have been three previous bridges crossing the Leeds and Liverpool Canal at the site, which is close to an old tannery in a formerly industrial area.

Who is behind it? Sefton Council, the NewHeartlands housing market renewal pathfinder, architects Eckersley O'Callaghan, designers Softroom and contractors Wrenco.

Project aims: To provide a bridge that complies with the Disability Discrimination Act and will become a symbol of regeneration as homes are built nearby.

Skills involved: Design, community engagement, planning, regeneration.

The new Pennington Road footbridge over the Liverpool and Leeds Canal is situated in an area of Bootle, Merseyside, that was heavily industrialised before it fell into decline.

It is the fourth version of a bridge at this point since the early 1900s. Its predecessor, dating from the 1980s, was a steel box girder construction. Regeneration leaders wanted a more attractive crossing that would also be fully accessible.

Cash for the £750,000 project came from the Merseyside pathfinder under the government's housing market renewal initiative. The new bridge, which is 19.4m long, will connect existing housing with three new residential developments on the site of the old factories and improve access for residents to the nearby town centre.

A design was picked from 79 entries after a competition run with RIBA. Two local community representatives sat on the judging panel. Softroom emerged as winner with a bridge made from durable Ekki hardwood, chosen because of its sustainable qualities. This has been made into glulam beams, which are efficient to produce.

Project architect Mike Shaw designed the bridge to follow the steep approach and arched shape of traditional canal bridges. "Disabled requirements for long ramps were the primary technical challenge," he adds. A zig-zag ramp was incorporated as well as steps to ensure easy access for wheelchair users.

Keeping the height of the bridge as low as possible enhances the elegant appearance and the very shallow gradients make it easy for people to cross. The abutments are precast concrete and have a smooth finish to deter climbing and graffiti. The bridge features built-in low-energy pathway lighting and a handrail.

The 2.4m width makes it easier for cyclists to cross without the need to dismount, with enough room to accommodate them and pedestrians. The approaches to the bridge have been designed to be as open as possible so that users are not vulnerable to criminal activity. "The area was quite rundown, but there are wider regeneration plans. The bridge is seen as a catalyst," says Shaw.

"The bridge represents the rebirth of the area and hopefully it is something that people living there will be proud of. We want it to be a central symbol," says Sefton Council project manager Lee Payne.

There was a long history of industry in the area, but this is now changing. "I like to think that the people of the area have ownership of this process. We wanted a bridge that was well designed rather than just an engineering solution," says Payne.

There were some practical issue to be overcome before the bridge could be completed, such as removal of a gas main that previously crossed the canal on one of the old bridges.

The bridge is well used, especially by children attending three local primary schools. To maintain a crossing while the new bridge was built, the previous structure was moved 30m along the canal. Construction took around seven months and was finished this month.

All those living on both sides of the canal now have a new footbridge to enjoy. It will form the centrepiece of the rejuvenation of an area that had fallen into decline and badly needed an injection of cash and some serious attention.

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