Forton Lake bridge closure leaves boaters and businesses in Gosport trapped in 'a very poor situation', say resident
Closures to the Forton Lake bridge in Gosport have left boaters and businesses stranded, with many counting the costs of lost opportunities and earnings.
The bridge is owned and operated by Gosport Borough Council and allows pedestrians and cyclists to cross over the lake, connecting the waterfront to the Royal Clarence Marina.
The centre section of the bridge is engineered to lower or raise to allow vessels to pass through, a right of passage that goes back centuries.
Over the past five years, the mechanism that opens the bridge has had a series of breakdowns trapping large vessels from leaving the lake.
Brian Neville, a local resident, believes the council have negated its responsibility to operate the bridge: ‘I used to live on a boat in Forton lake and I had a friend there, it really started as an assist to him, he's in the early stages of dementia.’
‘He tried to sell his boat in 2018, had a decent offer on it subject to survey, but he couldn't sell it because the bridge was broken.
‘There was no confirmed date for the repair to the bridge so basically, they’re trapped in Forton lake.
'This year he said he would sell it, he got a decent offer and again the bridge isn't open.
‘It turns out the bridge broke down in 2019, it was going to be repaired in February 2020 but then they found another fault with it and then of course along came the pandemic and they basically washed their hands of the whole thing.’
‘There's an awful lot of issues and questions around the maintenance of this bridge over the 20 years it’s been up, we’ve kept having faults and they keep hiring specialist contactors.
‘It's a very poor situation for a local authority to be in to trap people like that and basically wash their hands.
‘I feel they have a duty of care to maintain that right of passage but they seem to have negated all of that responsibility.
'The right of passage needs to be available as and when required, it’s a council asset that's being allowed to fall into disrepair.’
Maritime Workshops, a boat restoration business on Forton Lake helps train youngsters in shipwright work.
Trustee Alistair Dilley, from the Maritime Workshop, said that the bridge has caused the business to partially shut down.
He said: ‘The bridge first broke down in 2016 when we wrote a letter to Gosport Borough Council, we eventually got a letter back from them saying they were hiring engineers.
‘All the vessels with masts and some of the motorboats were unable to get out of Forton lake because the bridge wasn’t open.
‘The was one occasion where one of our boat owners had quite a large sailing yacht, he had agreed to sail and he threatened the council that if they didn’t open the bridge he would sue them for the value of the yacht, funnily enough, they were able to open the bridge for him.
‘Basically, we’ve been stuck here for 5 coming up to 6 years and not being able to get vessels in or out, it’s affected our business tremendously.
‘Not to mention the effect it’s had on our reputation, no one wants to come in here in case the bridge breaks down.
‘Because of this issue we’ve had to close down, we can’t provide work for people, we're now just a boatyard, we have moorings here for people to work on their boats, the last serious job we did was in early 2016.
‘The responses we get from Gosport Borough Council are nothing short of insulting.
‘We had negotiated a slight recompense for the loss of business, the amount that was agreed was laughable but in the end, after a short while, they just reneged that.
‘It’s so infuriating I have difficulty controlling myself when I talk about them, it really is just not on.’
Julie Smith, Head of Housing for Gosport Borough Council said: 'Whilst the bridge has been operational for significant periods of time since its completion, there have, unfortunately, been a number of mechanical issues that require specialist knowledge to rectify.
'Problems with the automatic opening system have meant that the bridge has not been able to be raised since February 2020.
'Unfortunately, progress has been hampered due to the many challenges associated with the pandemic and associated lockdowns.
'In addition, contractors were impacted by shortages of materials and issues with availability of labour due to a backlog of work.
'The council regrets the length of time it has taken to bring the bridge back into operation.
'We do understand the importance of the bridge and the access and linkages it provides to local residents and businesses, and we have been working hard to get the lifting gear operational again to also facilitate full egress to and from Forton Lake by water'.
The bridge will be under maintenance from the 18th to the 22nd of October and is expected to be operational by the end of the month.