March of children opens Workington bridge

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Heavy rain fell today as children officially opened a new footbridge named in honour of a hero policeman swept to his death in floods a fortnight ago.

Barker Crossing in Workington is named after Pc Bill Barker, who died directing traffic off the town's Northside Bridge when it collapsed on November 20.

The temporary footbridge is the first pedestrianised link across the River Derwent to unite the north and south sides of the Cumbrian town since the floods.

Previously residents could only cross the river by boarding a train or make a 45-minute detour via Cockermouth.

Children making their way to school were the first to use the new crossing, as the media looked on.

The 52-metre steel bridge was constructed by the army and is similar to those built by soldiers in Afghanistan.

Insp Mark Wear, head of Workington Neighbourhood Policing Team, who witnessed the opening of the new bridge, said: "This footbridge is a tangible symbol of how we are starting to rebuild the area and getting back to normal.

"I am pleased that its name commemorates my friend and colleague Bill, who died saving lives right here in Workington.

"He was committed to serving his community and for him to be remembered in this way is a tribute to his memory."

Armed Forces minister Bill Rammell MP and schools minister Iain Wright MP also attended the opening alongside Brigadier Bill Aldridge, Commander 42 (North West) Brigade.

Brig Aldridge said: "The Army is delighted to have completed this small but significant part of a much larger and wider effort to help this part of Cumbria get back on its feet after the floods.

"Our soldiers have worked round the clock to get us to where we are today, opening this footbridge on time to meet the morning school run."

The new footbridge is 300 metres upstream of unusable Calva Bridge, which is currently being assessed for repair or demolition.

Cumbria County Council engineers are assessing potential sites for a new road bridge but this might not be ready until next summer.

Council leader Jim Buchanan said: "There has been a massive effort on all fronts to get to where we are today. There's clearly still a huge amount of work still to do and I appreciate that people are getting frustrated with the travel delays and are keen to be able to cross the river by road as soon as possible.

"We're pulling out all the stops to make that happen, but the reality is that a temporary road bridge is a far bigger project than the temporary footbridge that the army has done such a magnificent job of constructing so quickly.

"Everybody needs to club together to make life as easy as it can be while the disruption continues - be it through using the footbridge and taking public transport, car sharing, or avoiding travelling at peak times."

Armed Forces minister Bill Rammell MP said he hoped the bridge would help put the community back on its feet.

He said: "This has been an absolutely phenomenal effort.

"We must remember that six days ago we saw the worst rain, the heaviest rain, we have ever seen in the UK, and it was devastating here in Workington.

"It has been a really powerful effort across the community, across government and local government to get to where we are today and I'm really pleased the armed services have been able to play their part.

"It has been an astonishing feat of engineering to get this bridge open - 110 tonnes of bridge, 4,000 tonnes of aggregate, and 8,000 man hours both day and night have gone in to getting us here and I'm really proud of what they have achieved.

"Hopefully it will allow the community to begin to rebuild."

Army spokesman Phil Curtis said: "The engineers finished work on the bridge at 6am this morning to have it ready to open at 8.

"It's a 50-metre span which has taken us ten days to build. It hit the far bank on Friday evening.

"These bridges are designed to be temporary structures, to go in and be removed fairly easily, so when there is no further use for it we will take it away.

"We have had driving rain through the week, freezing conditions down to minus eight one night, hail, and a bit of sunshine but very little warmth. It has been difficult, very hard pounding for the guys.

"Working through the night in freezing conditions or driving rain to put a structure like this in position has been hard work but they have dug out blind.

"The guys have been proud to be here; and are immensely proud of what they have achieved and to be able to give something back to the community.

"The response we have had from the people of Workington and the positive and upbeat attitude they have had has really spurred the guys on to make sure they do a good job and get it in."