Plans to repair historic wooden bridge

SUMMER JACOBS

The City of Cape Town says it is “hoping to be in a position” to advertise a tender for the restoration of one of Milnerton’s oldest landmarks.

The wooden bridge at Woodbridge Island has gone from serving as an important military access point to an eyesore for residents.

It fell into disrepair after a new bridge was built a few metres away in 1984.

Driving along the R27 one is met with the dilapidated wooden bridge barely standing, despite years of promises to have it fixed by the City. Standing for 115 years, the bridge now has the added burden of a visitor who frequently has siestas in the middle of it with his belongings scattered about.

For the past few weeks, Tabletalk has noted the man’s presence.

He is not always there, but when he is, he usually occupies the middle of the bridge with what appears to be his possessions.

These appear to be a blanket, pieces of cardboard, a plastic bucket and plastic bags. On one occasion, he had his blanket hanging over the handrails of the bridge.

Built out of Australian Jarra wood during the Anglo-Boer War in 1901 by the Royal Engineers, the bridge served as an entrance to a cannon trench.

It was declared a national monument in 1987.

In 2007, it was deemed too dangerous for public use and was barricaded.

Over the years, Tabletalk has published several stories about the state of the bridge and promises made by the City to restore it.

In 2008, the City’s environmental heritage resource department (ERHD) applied to The National Lotteries Board for R3.3 million to have it restored and managed (“Touch wood – wooden bridge will be restored,” Tabletalk, October 29, 2008”).

Now, eight years later, Brett Herron, the mayoral committee member for transport, says wheels are in motion to repair the bridge.

“This project, which entails the complete rehabilitation of this structure, will be funded from Transport for Cape Town’s (TCT) capital budget.

“Construction is programmed to take place in the 2017/18 financial year and will be funded from TCT’s proposed overall budget.

“There are still environmental and heritage authorisation processes which need to be completed before the detail design of the solution can be finalised. This will take up much of the current year.

“It is therefore anticipated that this project will be put out to tender in January 2017 (the 2016/17) financial year, with construction to commence in the following financial year (2017/18). The actual construction period will take about 10 months,” said Mr Herron.

The City refused to be drawn on the cost of the refurbishment, with Mr Herron saying only that the outcome of the tender process would determine the costs involved.

He said the bridge’s handrails and timber decking, in particular, were in extremely poor condition.

“Unfortunately, members of the public do make their way around or through the barricades from time to time at their own risk.

“With the construction of the newer concrete road bridge, alternative access to Woodbridge Island became available, and with funding always in short supply, other demands have taken priority over the maintenance of this particular structure,” he said.

Ward councillor Bernadette le Roux said the man on the bridge was a “wandering soul” who would disappear for months at a time before popping up again.

“He’s just in a bad way. You see him all over Milnerton. He’s never in one place. Now and again, law enforcement chases away homeless people from under the bridge,” said Ms Le Roux.

Dr Errol Myburg, interim CEO of Heritage Western Cape, said with the promulgation of the National Heritage Resources Act (NHRA) in 1999, all previous national monuments automatically became provincial heritage sites, including the old bridge.

“Provincial heritage sites are protected in terms of section 27 of the NHRA, specifically section 27(18), which states that, ‘No person may destroy, damage, deface, excavate, alter, remove from its original position, subdivide or change the planning status of any heritage site without a permit issued by the heritage resources authority responsible for the protection of such site’,” said Dr Myburg.

“In such instances, Heritage Western Cape is responsible for ensuring that any action taken (as described above) does not negatively impact on the heritage significance of a provincial heritage site. However, it is the responsibility of the landowner, in this case the City of Cape Town, to ensure that maintenance of such a site takes place and to ensure the long term security of such a site,” he said.