A historic footbridge across the Merri River could be scrapped under a Warrnambool City Council cost-cutting plan, local residents fear.
A review of the Stephens Street footbridge, near the old Woollen Mill in South Warrnambool, has raised concern its future is in doubt.
Local resident Phil Carter said the footbridge was an important link for the community.
“For people like us south of the river it’s the way we walk and ride our bikes into town, or the way we get to the rail trail. We see a lot of people using it who I think are tourists staying in the caravan parks,” he said.
“I think it’s used far more than council are aware.”
Warrnambool City Council’s Bridges Asset Management Plan lists the 30-metre-long bridge as being in “very poor condition”, with a replacement value of $183,924.
The current bridge dates from the 1920s, and Mr Carter said a footbridge had been located on the site since at least the 1880s.
“It’s part of the history of the area that this is how we access the centre of town,” he said.
The Mill developer Craig Patterson, who has worked to transform the nearby former woollen mill site into a housing estate, agreed the footbridge had historic significance.
“I am sure many parents and grandparents and great-grandparents of local families used it getting to and from work at the mill,” he said.
“I am sure that the five Woollen Mill employees with their names on the war memorial at the Warrnambool Woollen Mill for making the ultimate sacrifice to our country in World War I and World War II would have crossed that bridge to get home after a shift.”
The footbridge was also factored into plans when developing the site, Mr Patterson said, with non-resident access provided through the area to provide links to public open space and the rail trail.
“I guess if the bridge was not a significant part then design may have been done differently, even to the point of maybe no access through the development, and subdivisional plans may have differed,” he said.
“We also always understood that there was a major water supply high pressure pipe strapped to the side of the bridge to provide water to South Warrnambool homes – so development has always been sensitive to the easements.”
As part of the agreement in purchasing the property, the developers contributed funding to maintaining the bridge over six years, which has since been completed.
Mr Patterson said the footbridge added to the amenity and safety of the area.
“Walkers, runners and cyclists would have to revert to crossing at the main road bridges at Stanley Street and Harris Street etc,” he said.
“The bridge holds a lot of significance for so many people – some new residents living in The Mill, for example, over the age of 60 have taken up bike riding again, after 40 years and use the tracks and access points – some have even bought boogy boards and now go surfing again, some buying dogs and walking – all good healthy lifestyle benefits using the amenity in the area.”
A Warrnambool City Council spokesman said there was no need for alarm.
“Council has included an allocation in the bridge plan to investigate and undertake renewal works on the footbridge in 2019-2020,” he said.
“The plan indicates that before making a decision around renewing the bridge, council would make an assessment of whether it was used or required by the community. The feedback from this consultation would be factored in to the decision on the footbridge renewal.”
Submissions on the council’s Bridges Asset Management Plan close on May 6. Visit the council’s website for more information.