Wardown Park suspension bridge on path to recovery as refurbishment plans emerge

The iconic Wardown Park suspension bridge looks set to be brought back to its former glory as plans for its repair have now been lodged.

The 106-year-old bridge has been closed to the public since July 2012, when a survey prior to the Love Luton festival found it had ‘weak and corroded elements’.

Early estimates put the repair costs at £200,000, though in April the Herald & Post revealed that the total hallooned by a further £100,000 due to extra work needed on the bridge’s piers, timber beams, bolts and cable connections.

Luton Borough Council explored the possibilty of a Heritage Lottery Grant Fund but were told to abandon a bid as it ‘would be unlikely to succeed’, before later allocating up to £306,000 for the project from a £4m underspend in its 2013-14 budget.

After appointing contractor Arup to draw up plans for the refurbishment, a full planning application has now been submitted by the council’s parks office based at Wardown.

In a heritage document included in the application it is revealed that the proposal aims to ‘restore the structure as closely as possible to its post-1953 appearance’.

The ‘weak and corroded elements’ which caused the closure in 2012 would be replaced along with cables and saddle bearings.

The tops of the bridge’s towers would be reconstructed where cracking is found, while the timber decking would also be replaced with timber similar to that which would have been used on the original 1908 structure.

Arup was originally commissioned by the council in March to carry out a study into two options; refurbishment of the existing bridge and replacement of the bridge with a structure that had ‘less risk and less future maintenance’.

This would have seen the steel deck replaced with a modern structure spanning between the two piers, which would not need additional support from the existing cables.

This second, less sympathetic, option was dismissed after English Heritage advised that a refurbishment would “retain more of the historic fabric and the traditional construction which is where much of the significance of the structure lies”.

Arup has estimated refurbishment costs, with a 15% contingency, to total £253,384.

Kent-based construction firm Topbond Ltd has been commissioned to carry out the works.

A council spokesperson said: “The planning application runs parallel with seeking permission from English Heritage as the suspension bridge is in a registered grade II park and there is a requirement that the bridge is repaired to existing design and standard.

“The repairs will involve taking apart the existing structure which we believed was made in two sections and floating it to the landing stage in front the boat house.

“There it will be sand blasted to remove all existing paint down to the metal and to replace the metal as required. “The steel wires will be replaced with pre-stretched cables and then the repaired bridge will be re-hung on the new cables; new pulleys will also have to be installed in the top of the towers.

“The wooden decking will then be replaced.”

The eight-week work programme would be conducted from mid February to mid April.

The council’s planning department will make a decision on the application by October 27.