Joint Statement on the closing of the East Beach Bridge

Issued by the Lossiemouth Community Development Trust, the Lossiemouth Community Council and the Lossiemouth Business Association.

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By now everyone will be aware of the news that the East Beach bridge has been closed on health and safety grounds, preventing all pedestrian access to the beach.

Members of the public reported hearing cracking sounds on Tuesday and the bridge appeared to be listing to the left (town side) at the beach end. The concerns were reported to the council, who dispatched a structural engineer to assess the damage, and as a result the bridge has been deemed unsafe for use. You can read the council’s statement here:

http://www.moray.gov.uk/newsroom/news.html#/pressreleases/lossiemouth-east-beach-footbridge-update-2901067

Today, representatives of the Lossiemouth Development Trust, the Lossiemouth Community Council and the Lossiemouth Business Association met Councillor John Cowe and Convener of Moray Council, Shona Morrison, to hear the report, view the evidence, ask questions and discuss our options.

We accept and agree that sadly the bridge must remain closed until further notice. It’s dangerously unsafe. It’s unlikely to reopen this year, if ever. It’s more likely that it will be replaced by a new bridge, either close to the current location or from the original site on the esplanade.

There is no pedestrian access to the beach. We are looking at alternatives to accessing the beach, but unfortunately, at this point in time, nothing appears viable, at least not in the short term.

We all knew that the bridge had fallen into disrepair and its lifespan was limited. In 2017, surveyors estimated that there was maybe five years left, but no-one expected it to fail so soon, and at such a critical point in the season, affecting locals, day-trippers, holiday makers and local businesses, it is without doubt, disastrous for the town.

Fortunately, the Lossiemouth Community Development Trust have been working on this problem for many years, and have recently made a lot of progress towards understanding and resolving outstanding issues and finding funding for a solution. We are in a good position to move ahead and seek emergency funding. We have the (non-financial) support of the council, the MP and MSP in whatever solution we decide to implement.

Next Tuesday we’ll again meet with the council, and there are plans for a public meeting, probably next Wednesday evening, to be confirmed.

Until then, we know everyone has lots of questions, so we’ve tried to address some of them below.

* How bad is it? *

In short, it’s pretty catastrophic, and there is no practical solution to repair the bridge in the short term.

Six vertical struts have snapped in one area, some of which were already rotted through, but some clearly showing new breaks. The bridge had clearly fallen into disrepair, and the weight of thousands of people crossing to enjoy the sunshine on Tuesday would have been the last straw and have left the bridge effectively ‘hanging by a thread’.

* Does it really have to be closed? *

Having seen the photos and heard the evidence (but not the full report at this point) and from the findings of recent structural surveys, everyone present agreed that it was the right decision to close the bridge.

We’re all thankful that the decision was taken before anyone was hurt and appreciate the swift action by the Moray Council in clearing the beach and fencing off the bridge. We understand that there are warnings up at the Boar’s Rock end of the beach, too.

* How do we access the beach now? *

There is no pedestrian access to the East Beach. We urge people not to attempt to wade, swim or float to the beach. It may not look far, but the river has dangerous sandbanks, and has strong currents and tides. Please do not put your life and the life of others at risk. Already today the Buckie lifeboat was on the scene, rescuing people who waded over at low tide and got stuck. Just don’t risk it.

* How else could we get to the beach? *

There was a lot of discussion about various alternatives to get people safely to the sand, to enjoy the beach, thank you for all your suggestions on social media and in person.

The two main options that have come up are a floating pontoon/temporary bridge (possibly involving the army) or a ferry service.

The feeling in the room was that being tidal, the river is not suitable for a floating bridge/pontoon, and a solution safe for public use would still be expensive. Any funding we secure would be better spent on a permanent solution. But we will approach the Army/Royal Engineers, via government if needs be, to see what they say.

As for a ferry, if someone has a suitable craft that can transport hundreds of people to land safely on the East Beach and possesses the requisite licences and insurances to do so, then we certainly encourage them to set up a commercial venture, but it’s not a solution that the LCDT, LBA or Community Council has funds or skills to support.

*Can the broken section be repaired? *

It doesn’t look like the bridge can be temporarily repaired. There were discussions about strapping the sections, bolting them together, replacing the rotten section and more, but in every case, we face two issues:

Firstly, the rest of the bridge is in such bad shape that there is a high risk that more breaks will occur. Bolting it together and declaring it safe for passage, even for a limited number of people at a time, is too risky.

Secondly, the bridge is not owned by anyone, which is the main reason that no-one will repair it. If an organisation (the council, the LCDT, etc) attempts a repair, they then assume responsibility for the bridge and liability to maintain it, as well as crippling financial liability if someone is hurt or injured.

* When will the bridge be replaced? *

We don’t know at this point. It depends on the best solution, and it depends on getting the money for that solution.

The LCDT recently circulated a questionnaire for opinions on a replacement bridge. The results of that will be taken into consideration when advanced plans and surveys are prepared. Funding has already been applied for, and every possible other avenue of funding is being explored, both private and public.

* What about the Raft Race? *

If spectators are kept away from the bridge and if the rafts keep clear of the structure, then it shouldn’t be a problem, but that’s a council decision and we’ll know more about that next week.

* Why didn’t ’they’ do something?! *

The history of the bridge is a long and complicated one. The biggest issue is that no-one owns it, in fact the beach is actually on Fochabers land. If anyone repairs it, they assume liability for the ongoing maintenance and safety, and that is a very expensive situation to find yourself in.

The council can’t afford to repair the assets they do own. As much as we would want them to take on the bridge, their only statutory commitment is for the health and safety of the public, to commit to maintain and/or replace the structure would be financial recklessness on their part.

The Lossiemouth Community Development Trust and others in the town have been fighting for years to clear up the legalities of the bridge ownership so that decisions can be made and repairs or replacements sought. Recently the LCDT have employed a full-time development officer, whose main focus has been the bridge. There has been crowdfunding, funding applications and much publicity of its plight, both locally and nationally.

*Whose fault is it? *

There has been a lot of speculation about why this happened. We are all angry at the situation and can point to past decisions that could have made a difference. It’s natural to cast blame, but that’s not going to get our bridge back. As a community we now need to work together to find a solution.

* What can I do? *

There is a crowdfunding campaign which you can donate to here: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/lossietrust

A new bridge will cost around £500,000. We don’t expect to raise that amount through fundraising and crowdfunding, the bulk will come from private and public grants and funding.

But your money will be used to support the efforts to secure the funding, for example in paying for surveys and documentation that we need to support funding applications. Thank you for your support.

There will be a joint public meeting in the Town hall Wednesday 31 July @ 7pm to discuss all of the above points as well as answer any questions. Please come along and support your local associations to move forward with the best solution for Lossiemouth.

* And keep coming to Lossie! The bridge may be closed, but Lossiemouth is open for business, spread the word! *

The East Beach is iconic. It’s recognised as one of the most beautiful beaches in Scotland. It’s enjoyed by locals, day trippers and holiday makers, and holds many fond memories for a lot of folk.

And it is vital to the economy of our town. Many businesses depend on the draw of the beach for custom, not just the shops along the esplanade, but the surf school, the hotels, the B&Bs, the caravan park, the restaurants, cafes and many more.

So please, use our shops and services, support our local economy! The West Beach is also very beautiful, particularly at this time of year with the long summer evenings.