It may look like nothing is happening to repair Chester’s historic Watergate Bridge but the council insists complex behind-the-scenes work is taking place.
Motorists are frustrated with the roadworks linked to the project which is overrunning because the stonemasons keep discovering more damage than originally anticipated.
The structure, which forms part of the City Walls, spans the A548 between Lower Watergate Street and New Crane Street.
But the Grade I listed bridge has been supported by scaffolding since late 2012.
Last November Cheshire West and Chester Council began to restore the Watergate Bridge to its former glory, with a planned finish in May 2017.
Councillor Karen Shore, cabinet member for environment, explained the story so far including the reasons for the delay.
She said: “The council is committed to protecting Chester’s unique heritage and making it accessible for everyone. These intensive and specialist works are part of a project to improve and maintain the city’s historic walls, with £500,000 investment from the council.
“Due to its complexity, the skilled work has been so far hidden from public view and it’s easy to see why it may look like nothing has been happening. But underneath the white scaffold tent, where the majority of the works are taking place, is a hive of activity. We’re currently putting together a video showing some of our skilled stonemasons and the work they’ve been carrying out, which will be online soon.
“Work is also taking place on the approach ramps either side of the bridge in order to make the best use of the closure that is in place for the bridge works. There is still a lot to do but we are striving to have the bulk of these works complete by the end of this year.”
Councillor Shore said the amount of extra work required to restore the bridge became evident after the parapet was dismantled earlier this year. Previous repair techniques had actually led to considerable damage.
She explained: “Repair techniques used in the last century meant that 85% of the stone had to be replaced due to ‘delamination’ – where water flakes away outer layers of stonework. Initially the project estimated that 15% of the stonework on the bridge would need to be replaced, so you can see how the scale of the project increased – something we couldn’t have anticipated until it was underway.
“A 3D laser scan was undertaken to create millimetre accurate drawings of the original balustrade that has been used to both schedule the works and to commission bespoke component parts of the parapet to secure it for future generations.”
She added: “As we approach Christmas, we understand that there will be higher levels of traffic and we will do the very best we can to keeping traffic flowing smoothly.”