A ‘call-in’ on plans for an ‘Instagram-friendly’ new footbridge in the centre of Haverfordwest, made by Pembrokeshire’s Conservative group and the IPG group will see the matter return to the council’s Cabinet.

At the March 11 meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council’s Cabinet, members awarded the contract for the Haverfordwest footbridge and Western Quayside Phase 2 project.

The signature bridge scheme, in the Haverfordwest’s conservation area, also includes a ‘plaza’ public realm reconfiguration and enhancement; and repair, renewal and refurbishment of the former Cleddau Foundry building.

It forms part of the ‘Heart of Pembrokeshire’ regeneration project, which was previously awarded a Levelling Up Fund grant.

Concerns about the bridge – and potential costs – have previously been raised, and the design of the new bridge has previously been labelled an ‘Instagrammable’ bridge by Councillor Rhys Jordan when raising questions about costs associated with it.

Instagram bridge
The ‘instagram-friendly’ ‘signature bridge’ plans submitted as part of the Haverfordwest Footbridge and Western Quayside Phase 2 plans. (Pic: Atkins Ltd) (Pic: Atkins Ltd)

The bridge is also part of a wider regeneration of the county town, which includes the ‘Ocky White’ Western Quayside retail development and a new transport interchange on the site of the former multi-storey car park.

At the March 11 meeting, Council Leader David Simpson said: “If we cancelled the actual bridge now, we would lose the 90 per cent funding, it would cost us more than for a really nice bridge in the centre of town, and to me is an asset to the community.”

In a letter to the administration, the Welsh Conservative group, led by Councillor Di Clements, asked for the decision to award the contract to be scrutinised further saying that “given its sizeable cost estimation and the high public interest in the matter, the Welsh Conservative group believe that this decision deserves full and proper scrutiny at committee level.”

A similar ‘call-in’ was also made by the Independent Group.

Documents before the March 26 meeting of the council’s services overview and scrutiny committee, where the ‘call-n’ was heard, said the cost of the bridge project amounts to £5.7m out of an overall Heart of Pembrokeshire budget of £25.4m; of that money, external funding of £17.7m (70 per cent) has been secured for the overall project and £5.1m (90 per cent) secured for the bridge project.

This leaves council costs at £7.7m for the overall project, and £600,000 for the bridge and associated works, the report for members said, with costs to date for the two projects amounting to £3.9m for the Heart of Pembrokeshire project, and £1.1m for the bridge only.

Speaking at the meeting, deputy leader Cllr Paul Miller responded to the ‘call-in’ request, saying the bridge scheme was part of the regeneration of Haverfordwest aimed at giving it “a real shot in the arm”.

He said repairing the existing bridge instead of using the levelling-up grants for a replacement bridge, and associated works, would mean the grants would disappear, leaving the council to foot the £1.1m incurred to date, with no new bridge and all bills the council’s responsibility.

Members also herd the option of simply replacing the existing bridge on a ‘like-for-like’ basis was expected to top £900,000.

“Here, where we are today, we’ve effectively got the choice of about £600,000 to carry on or we can do anything else which will definitely at least double the cost, that is the position we’re in today,” Cllr Miller said.

Admitting he was channelling the famous phrase of President Kennedy and his 1960s promise to land a man on the moon before the end of that decade, Cllr Miller said: “We’re doing this because it’s hard, not because it’s easy.”

Tory group leader Cllr Di Clements’ ‘call-in’ asked: “I’d like to move a recommendation as a committee member that this item is sent back to cabinet for further clarification around the quotes and cost estimations to maintain the bridge to ensure that statements that have been made by cabinet members in the public realm are accurate. This will be the only method for members to see these figures.

“While the committee appreciate the Cabinet member [Cllr Paul Miller] was not in attendance at the meeting where this was awarded, the statements have been made nonetheless and the public deserve honesty and clarity on this matter.

“Cabinet should also further discuss the financial implications of this project on the budget going forward as this was not discussed at the previous cabinet meeting where it was proposed.”

Committee members, by seven votes to four, backed Cllr Clements’ proposal the matter be referred back to Cabinet.