Backing for suicide barrier on Aberdeen bridge

The bridge crosses Aberdeen's Union Street. Picture: TSPLThe bridge crosses Aberdeen's Union Street. Picture: TSPL
The bridge crosses Aberdeen's Union Street. Picture: TSPL
ABERDEEN City councillors are to set back plans to spend £120,000 erecting a fence to stop people jumping to their deaths from the city’s landmark Union Bridge.

There have been total of 100 incidents where people have either threatened to jump or jumped from the Union Street bridge since 2008. Three people have already plunged to their deaths this year from the structure - the largest single-span granite bridge in the world.

In February a man died after falling from onto the tracks of the main Aberdeen to Inverness rail line below. In March, one man died and a teenager was seriously injured after they fell from the bridge in separate incidents. And in April another man fell to his death on to the railway tracks.

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Council officials in Aberdeen are now recommending a new barrier should be put in place on the Category B-listed structure to help deter suicide attempts at the 130ft bridge, which overlooks the Denburn dual carriageway, the railway line and Union Terrace Gardens.

Officials have been exploring a number of options for a suicide deterrent since April when SNP councillors Jim Kiddie and Bill Cormie first called for action and suggested decorative spikes be installed at the bridge to prevent people climbing out on to the parapet.

The erection of the fence barrier will require listed buildings consent from Historic Scotland.

Gordon McIntosh, the council’s director of enterprise, planning and infrastructure states in a report to the planning committee: “Union Bridge is dominant in the landscape of Union Street and Union Terrace. Changes to its appearance will attract comment. This has to be balanced against the ongoing loss of life at the site and the possibility of third party injury or death.“

He explains that officials have already ruled out the use of either netting or spikes attached to the top rail of the bridge parapet to deter would-be suicides. And he states; “The installation of netting would require alterations to the existing listed structure. There are also concerns that the presence of the netting might be seen by some as a challenge and attract jumpers. In addition there would be maintenance issues with litter accumulating in the netting and the access required to clear it.

“It was therefore decided to proceed with a more detailed investigation into the possibilities for increasing the height of the parapet. Recent studies have concluded that the erection of barriers is effective in reducing suicide attempts at bridges. Whilst signage, provision of phones and CCTV surveillance can have some effect they should be seen as a supplement to the erection of barriers and not as an alternative.”

Councillor Kiddie, the party’s spokesman for social care and well-being, welcomed the proposed solution. He said “Where you have got a high bridge in any location then it’s a challenge. People unfortunately choose that method to commit suicide and we should, in high visibility areas, take steps to ensure that it doesn’t happen.

“I do feel;that by erecting a fence which is aesthetically acceptable to the various authorities is an answer for what has been a problem in Aberdeen for many, many years.”

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