CENTRAL government funding for new cycle routes through Taunton town centre cannot be used to reinstate a popular footbridge, Somerset Council has confirmed.

The footbridge within Goodland Gardens was closed by Somerset West and Taunton Council on November 30, 2022 “until further notice” for repairs after a report concluded there were “significant” structural weaknesses within the joists and it was “not viable to repair”.

A report published in late-March 2023 confirmed that the bridge could cost at least £400,000 to replace and recommended that the structure be removed completely from the riverside.

Somerset Council (which replaced the district council in April 2023) is in the process of implementing numerous walking and cycling improvements between Taunton railway station and the town centre, using money from the government’s future high streets fund.

But a key councillor has confirmed in an email exchange with a local resident that the bridge cannot be reinstated using this funding – and any attempt to do could jeopardise the delivery of other improvements.

Retired Taunton resident Brenda Prentice raised the question of the bridge’s future in an email addressed to several Somerset Council division members.

She said: “I am asking that the council’s active travel plan is extended to include coming across the front of the new building by The Brewhouse, across Bridge Street, down the path from Bridge Street that goes towards French Weir, and crosses the footbridge that is currently out of use.

“This would be in keeping with the aims of active travel and  please the people of that area enormously on their way to Vivary Park, on an almost traffic free route. It would take in the Museum, Somerset Square and Bath Place.

“I am aware that unspent grant money does have to be returned, so good to make sure it is spent and spent well.

“People feel deprived without the bridge to Goodland Gardens and the path the public have used for years by the river. Not helping to recover these assets does nothing to enhance the town.”

Councillor Richard Wilkins, portfolio holder for transport and digital, responded directly to Mrs Prentice’s concerns in an email seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

He said: “While it would be great if the council could support the Goodlands Gardens bridge, and I appreciate the sentiment that it is in keeping with the general ambition to encourage active travel, it cannot be done using the future high streets fund grant.

“This money was awarded to us in 2021 to create a 1.5-kilometre safer cycling link from the railway station to Vivary Park. At the time, this had been identified as a key priority route for Taunton in the local cycling and walking infrastructure plan (LCWIP) and  is central to achieving ambitions in the 2040 garden towns vision.

“Unfortunately, the Goodlands Garden Bridge is not on this route and therefore cannot be included in the agreed 1.5km output – an output that fundamentally underpins our funding award.

“Removing other schemes on the route in its favour would lead to a review of our funding award and potentially the loss of funding.”

The grant from the future high streets fund originally needed to be spent in its entirety by the end of March 2024.

This has now been expected to September 2024, with any unspent funding by this date needing to be returned to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC).

Mr Wilkins – who represents the Curry Rivel and Langport division – added: “The reality is that there is unlikely to be any unspent funds. All £2.257m of the allocated funds are committed to specific schemes as planned when we were awarded funding.

“Due to the dramatic and seemingly ever consistent rising costs of construction in recent years, we are not able to deliver all of the original planned schemes for this route. The ones that have been removed are not crucial to the delivery of the key output.”

“The key schemes that will be delivered include delivery of the Firepool boulevard (which had separate additional future high streets funding) and a new bridge over the River Tone.

“We are about to submit a new planning application to widen the existing Morrison’s bridge to make it compliant with government regulations.

“The improvements also include a new improved crossing at Upper High Street over to Vivary Park (which is due for delivery in May) and the delivery of cycling infrastructure in the town, such as the new bike park in The Crescent car park.

“We have also changed the traffic regulation order on High Street to officially enable cycling – even though people have always cycled on it.”

Somerset Council said it would respond to Mrs Prentice directly to address her concerns regarding walking and cycling in the town centre.

A spokesman added: “Our future high streets fund is now fully allocated to an agreed programme, so we are confident it will not need to be returned to the government.

“We are committed to improving walking and cycling provision across Taunton and will continue to seek funds to achieve this.”