The Leamington Lift Bridge across the Union Canal has been closed since the summer, cutting off access to the Lochrin Basin, and there were fears it could lead to the closure of Scotland’s entire lowland canal system.
But now funding has been secured to preserve the structure of the 122-year-old bridge and upgrade the lifting mechanism.
Work will start early in the new year and is scheduled to be completed by the summer. The bridge, which crosses the canal from Leamington Road to Gilmore Park, is popular with walkers, cyclists and commuters.
It was identified as “an operational risk” in September after engineers found significant corrosion within the lifting gear inside the towers.
The bridge was then closed to boating traffic, although access for pedestrians and cyclists has been maintained.
Campaign group Keep Canals Alive feared the move might spell the end for lowland waterways because it followed the closure of four opening bridges which restricted boat movements on the Forth & Clyde Canal, which connects to the Union Canal at the Falkirk Wheel. But the “festive windfall” of £350,000 allowed Scottish Canals, who operate the waterways, to announce yesterday that the necessary restoration work at Leamington will go ahead.
The money comes from Sustrans’ national cycle network development programme, funded by the Scottish Government.
The towpath will remain open throughout the works and boats moored in the basin will get an opportunity to move through the bridge.
Although the pedestrian access across the bridge may need to close at some point during the works, Scottish Canals will create an alternative route which spans the canal.
Catherine Topley, CEO of Scottish Canals, said: “Thanks to Sustrans, this valuable heritage structure will continue to be used by walkers, cyclists and commuters for many years to come and this announcement is testament to the excellent partnership we have with them.
“Edinburgh Quay is an important tourist destination which contributes significantly to the local economy and the canal and its assets are a vital part of what makes it attractive to visitors, residents, businesses and leisure users.”
Tom Bishop, of Sustrans Scotland, said: “This programme of repairs to the bridge will ensure that this well-loved section of the Union Canal remains a vibrant and inviting place to walk and cycle.”
Green councillor and Edinburgh canal champion Gavin Corbett said he was delighted at the grant. “For many, the lift bridge is the most significant symbol of the canal’s industrial past and of the ambitious plans to create a new canalside community at Fountainbrige. To have lost the lift bridge as the Union Canal approaches its bicentenary in 2022 would have been unthinkable.
“I know the work needed is significant and painstaking and it will involve some disruption. But a long term future for the bridge will make it worthwhile.”