Bridge passes another hurdle

Heritage Western Cape has supported the City's R30 million upgrade plan for the Milnerton wooden bridge.

Heritage Western Cape (HWC) has approved the City’s plan to restore Woodbridge Island’s historic bridge, after one of its own committee members presented a report in favour of a project expected to cost about R30 million.

On Wednesday February 22, an application for a permit to restore the bridge was tabled at an HWC meeting.

HWC committee member Mike Scurr said the bridge needed to “adapt and find a contemporary meaning”.

Mr Scurr, an architect from Rennie Scurr Adendorff Architects, a firm specialising in the conservation and restoration of historic buildings and precincts, is working in partnership with Bergstan South Africa Consulting and Development Engineers, which is representing the City, as the applicant.

The bridge was built in 1901 by

the Fortress Company of Royal Engineers to provide military access to the island and up the coast.

It was built from Australian jarra wood, which is known for its strength, weight and durability. The bridge was the only access to Woodbridge Island and was in frequent use until the new and more modern bridge was built to the south of it in 1984.

Declared a national monument in 1987, pedestrians continued to use the bridge until its deterioration led to its closure in 2007.

Mr Scurr gave a presentation at the HWC meeting that was similar to the one he gave at a Milnerton Central Community meeting last year (“Big bucks needed for historic bridge,” Tabletalk, November 30, 2016).

He said that from a heritage standpoint the “significance and rarity value of the bridge indicate that the bridge should be conserved and repaired”.

However, to do that, the City will have to cough up about R30 million, according to the report presented at the Milnerton Central Community meeting.

As only between 15 to 20 percent of the bridge’s timber is salvageable, Mr Scurr’s report notes it would have to be largely rebuilt using new timber other than jarra, which would be too hard to obtain in the lengths and sizes needed for restoration.

A light-weight transparent galvanised steel mesh fencing would added along the inner part of the railings for safety.

As Mr Scurr is also a member of the HWC committee, he was asked to leave the meeting while the committee discussed the application.

The committee then supported Mr Scurr’s reportunanimously, saying it “adequately addressed the heritage significance” of the wooden bridge. They also agreed it should become the centre piece of a “vibrant new pedestrian environment”.

Committee member Peter Buttgens said the presentation articulated the “authenticity of the historic landmark”. Because the bridge had been part of the founding of Milnerton it was important to preserve it, he said.

“In a sense, retaining something of that bridge becomes important and ensuring that it doesn’t become a relic,” said Mr Buttgens.

Brett Herron, mayoral committee member for transport and urban development, said the City was waiting on province’s Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning to confirm the environmental process needed for the restoration, after which a design would be finalised and a tender awarded, possibly by October.

“If all goes as planned. The estimated construction period is 12 months,” said Mr Herron.

Tabletalk’s previous article about the bridge’s upgrades received a lot of backlash from people who felt it was a waste of time and money. In a letter to Tabletalk, Edgemead resident Pieter Coetzee questioned the historical value of the bridge.

“The two-year project will no doubt stretch to three, and the cost will ultimately escalate to R45 million. For whose benefit? Only the architects and those making money out of it in my opinion,” said Mr Coetzee.

In another letter, Table View resident Claudine Rahl said continuing with upgrade plans would be “proof of lack of judgement”.

“The new bridge won’t provide any practical function when there is a road with sidewalks already. Neither will it draw tourists; Cape Town already draws tourists automatically,” said Ms Rahl.

Jakie Thom from Milnerton Ridge also sent a letter saying someone needed to explain why the City has to pay for restoring the bridge when it is, or should be, funded by Heritage Western Cape.

When Ms Thom heard that the HWC had approved the upgrade plans she said: “We don’t want HWC’s consent – we want their money. They claim that it is Cape Town’s possession and responsibility.

Let us graciously donate it to them”.

Bouwe van der Eems vice chairman of the Milnerton Central Residents’ Association said he agrees with critics that frown on spending large amount on heritage sites when there is so much poverty around us but he thinks the restoration of the wooden bridge can be the start of something that can do much more than the traditional political attempts to alleviate poverty.

“There is controversy around the restoration of the wooden bridge. Some residents are of the opinion that the funds allocated for this bridge can be used for better purposes, such as shelters. On the other hand the city justifies its decision on the grounds that heritage legislation does not allow the bridge to be demolished and therefore it must be restored to its original state.

“Unfortunately, both parties tend to view the bridge merely as a structure to be utilized by local pedestrians to cross a river.

“When this is the case, it is indeed valid to ask whether the cost of the bridge can justify the utility of the bridge.

“If this bridge is viewed in a broader context, it has got much more utility than a mere pedestrian passageway. Milnerton has a number of public spaces with potential that is not unlocked, due to a lack of development. The Woodbridge area is a prime example of this.

“It can be argued that the Woodbridge area has potential to become a magnificent public space similar to Mouille Point. If this potential is unlocked, the area can become a popular destination for tourists, holidaymakers and residents, creating business opportunities and jobs that will exceed the costs of restoring the wooden bridge.”