City Council sets out plan for investment in two city centre Thames bridge crossings

Published: Friday, 11th March 2022

Work is progressing on two bridge projects for the city - the Gasworks Pipe Bridge and the Oxpens River Bridge.

Work is progressing on two bridge projects for the city – to urgently repair and reopen the Gasworks Pipe Bridge, and in parallel, undertake design work for a new bridge linking Osney Mead and Oxpens with a pedestrian and cycle bridge.

Gasworks Pipe Bridge

The Council is continuing to work on the refurbishment and strengthening of the Gasworks Pipe Bridge, which links the Isis towpath with Friars Wharf and St Ebbe’s in Oxford city centre, and has confirmed a budget allocation to undertake the necessary work once the detailed design has been agreed.

The bridge was closed in March 2021 due to concerns over its safety to the public, following a recommendation from Oxfordshire County Council, as Highway Authority, and the agreement of Oxford City Council, as the bridge owner.

The Gasworks Pipe Bridge was constructed in the 1920s to carry a pipe across the river between the north and south sites of the St Ebbe’s gasworks. The footpath was added in the 1970s, after the pipe was removed. The truss (the steel triangles that support the structure) is not strong enough to support a large group of people.

Since March 2021, the Council has been working with its appointed engineers, Stantec, to investigate ways it could reopen the bridge, while also considering the heritage significance of the bridge.

The preferred option is to repair the bridge by strengthening the truss and replacing the deck of the footpath with lightweight decking which will reduce its weight. The bridge carries a public right of way as well as national cycle route 5, both of which will be re-established once the bridge reopens.

A £5m allocation for a range of stock condition and asset improvements was approved by the City Council as part of its annual budget in February. Once the full scope and cost of the work is agreed, the intention is to draw down the necessary funds from this pot to undertake the work and reopen the bridge. This will require a Cabinet decision, and is also subject to securing all necessary planning and engineering approvals.

Stantec has submitted the first stage of approvals, called an Approval in Principle (AIP), to Oxfordshire County Council. The current programme indicates that the work should be complete and the bridge reopen by May 2023, subject to agreement by the County Council that a refurbishment is an appropriate option.

While the Gasworks Pipe Bridge is closed, alternative crossing points have been highlighted at the Gasworks Railway Bridge and Folly Bridge and diversion signs are in place. In order to support this the City Council and ODS have created several improvements to the diverted routes, including installing lights, cutting back foliage, and installing additional steel fencing along the river at Friars Wharf playground.

Oxpens River Bridge

Next week, the Council’s Cabinet will be asked to approve additional funding to complete the design work of the Oxpens River Bridge – a new pedestrian and cycle bridge linking Osney Mead to Oxpens and the city centre.

In 2020, the City Council was allocated £5.9m of external funding from the now Future Oxfordshire Partnership’s Growth Deal, to progress work on a new bridge. Oxford City Council entered a funding agreement with Oxfordshire County Council which is the Accountable Body for the funding.

The delivery of the bridge is a requirement of the Oxford Local Plan to support the proposed redevelopment at Osney Mead by providing safe and convenient off-road cycle routes towards the city centre.

The City Council’s Cabinet has previously approved the spend of £300,000 to undertake initial high level design and options work. This stage of work is near completion, and Cabinet will now be asked approve an additional £150,000 to take forward a preferred option.

This will include undertaking public consultation and engagement, currently programmed for summer 2022, and the submission of a planning application.

If approved, this would mean a total of £450,000 has been committed from the £5.9 Growth Deal allocation. The funding has been specifically allocated to the Oxpens River Bridge work, and cannot be used to fund other projects. 

As well as approval by the City Council cabinet decision, the County Council will also need to approve the funding, as they are the Accountable Body for the Growth Deal funds.

By completing the next phase of design work and seeking a planning determination, the City and County Councils will be able to provide a clearer picture of the necessary funds for the bridge’s eventual delivery.

Subject to budget and timeframes, a further cabinet decision and approval by the County Council will be required to move forward to the next stage of delivery.

Councillor Alex Hollingsworth, Cabinet Member for Planning and Housing Delivery said: “We are pleased to be making progress on these two bridge schemes. We have been working closely with engineers and the County Council on the Gasworks Pipe Bridge. We understand how difficult the bridge’s closure has been for local residents and the inconvenience that it has caused. We are working hard to bring it back into use as quickly as we can.”