A temporary walkway is opening across Sutton Harbour Lock to help people cross the harbour while the pedestrian footbridge is closed for repairs.
People will be able to use a new walkway across the inner lock gates for short periods of time in the day, depending on waiting marine traffic, tides and freeflow times, to cross from the historic Barbican Quarter to the Fishing Quarter and to visit the National Marine Aquarium and Rockfish restaurant.
This temporary walkway will be in addition to the option of catching the daily Sutton Harbour Ferry Service or walking around East Quay and North Quay, which form the City Quarter and Leisure Quarter of Sutton Harbour.
The temporary solution will not be suitable for small children, pushchairs, prams, bicycles, wheelchairs or anyone with mobility issues, as it involves steps and a narrow, single-file, adapted path crossing the industrial inner lock gates, which were not designed for pedestrian use.
It is hoped that the temporary walkway, when combined with the daily ferry service and the short walking route around the harbour, will make it easier for people to journey across Sutton Harbour while work continues to progress permanent repairs to the footbridge.
Council Leader Tudor Evans said: “I’m thrilled to have approved this plan to create a temporary walkway across Sutton Lock to make it easier for people to cross the harbour, and to support the key businesses in Plymouth which rely on this route. Getting action on this has been an early priority for the new council.
“We are working hard to get everything in place so the walkway can open in an estimated three weeks’ time, whilst we push forward on progressing permanent repairs to the footbridge. I am keen to see the Sutton Harbour footbridge reopen for the benefit of Britain’s Ocean City as a whole and want to see the repairs start as soon as possible with no further delays.”
Permission to use the interior lock gates for a temporary new walkway has been granted by Sutton Harbour Holdings plc and public liability insurances are being put in place. Infrastructure such as new fencing will now be ordered, and trained marshals will be hired to help manage the crossings. It is hoped the walkway can open in three weeks’ time if preparatory work completes as planned.
The temporary walkway will only be able to open for pedestrians when the lock gates are closed and no vessels are waiting to come through the lock into Sutton Harbour; should boats arrive and need to use the lock, the walkway will have to close, and people may face waits of up to 30 to 40 minutes on either side for it to reopen. The walkway may also need to close for tidal and other operational issues.
No official times for the walkway opening periods can be scheduled as a result of the lock having to remain active for marine traffic as it is required, but notice boards and signs will be installed on both sides of the harbour to let people know the time of the next expected crossing. Each crossing will be one-way only, as the pathway is too narrow for more than one person at a time to use it, and people will need to wait at holding points by West Pier and Rockfish restaurant until the gates are fully closed and secured.
Pete Bromley, Harbour Master for Sutton Harbour, said: “We appreciate that the Sutton Harbour footbridge being out of action causes a major inconvenience for people living and working locally, as well as for visitors to the harbour, and we are working closely with the city council and Environment Agency to expedite repairs, as well as to offer people other ways of crossing the harbour, such as funding the set-up of the Sutton Harbour Ferry Service, and subsiding this over the school holidays. People will now have a third option with the temporary walkway open across the back lock gates which should help in the interim.
“We’d advise that this may involve a wait, as naturally we have to prioritise letting fishing boats through the lock to unload their catch, as well as leisure boats needing to come in and out of Sutton Harbour, but we will make waiting times clear and people will have the option of using this temporary walkway to cross directly if they would like to, rather than catching the ferry or walking around the harbour.”
Mitch Tonks, owner of the Rockfish restaurant chain, said: “This is fantastic news and we are really happy that people will have an easier way to visit Rockfish from the historic Barbican side of the harbour while we wait for the bridge repairs to complete. We will have staff leading people across and providing information on access timings, and our ice cream kiosk, take away and outside seating area will be available for people using the temporary access.”
Roger Maslin, Chief Executive Officer at the National Marine Aquarium, said: “We’re very happy that this temporary walkway has been agreed and will soon be available to make it easier for people to visit the aquarium, along with the daily ferry service. We are working with Rockfish and the city council’s events team to help promote this route and will help to make it clear when the opening times will be on a daily basis, as well as to offer fun and engaging activities on both sides of the harbour for people waiting to cross the temporary walkway.”
It is hoped that permanent repairs to the pedestrian footbridge will complete in time for the bridge to reopen during the autumn. Delays have been caused to the original timescale because the repair is a highly complex process owing to the bespoke nature of the footbridge, and a new bearing has to be manufactured especially for the bridge turntable. Specialist manufacturers have advised that the design and production process can take up to six months before the new bearing can be fitted.
An agreement was reached in December 2017 between Plymouth City Council, the Environment Agency and Sutton Harbour Holdings plc to repair the custom-built footbridge, and these repairs are being commissioned by Plymouth City Council.
The bridge was fitted more than 20 years ago as part of the installation of the Sutton Harbour lock gates, whose main function is to manage any flood risk and allow marine traffic, such as fishing boats, to enter Sutton Harbour. The lock gates themselves remain fully operational, and must do so to enable fishing boats and leisure boats to access the harbour.
Plymouth City Council, Sutton Harbour Holdings plc and the Environment Agency continue to meet monthly to discuss the progress of repairs, along with key tenants such as the National Marine Aquarium and Rockfish restaurant, and to ensure the process is expedited.
The Sutton Harbour Ferry Service is operating daily between Lockyers Quay and Barbican West Pier, subsidised by Sutton Harbour Holdings plc during peak school holiday periods, and the ticket price is refunded for customers when they visit the NMA café or shop, or eat at Rockfish.
Daily updates on operating times for the ferry, which is run by Silverline Cruises, are available on the ferry’s Facebook page.
A walking route around the harbour is accessible via the Harbour Heritage Trail, with a one-mile footpath circling around East Quay and North Quay.