Discovery of asbestos adds £1.5m to the cost of work on Tamar Bridge

Critical maintenance on a major southwest England road bridge has just become even more expensive, with the news of an “unexpected discovery” of asbestos necessitating expenditure of £1.5m to put right.

The harmful material was found on Tamar Bridge in March, and meant a seven-week delay to work on the suspension system. Specialists have been brought in to implement safety measures at the bridge, where bolts are being replaced.

What do we know about the potentially dangerous fibres?

 According to Plymouth’s Herald newspaper, a report going to the Tamar Bridge and Torpoint Ferry joint committee revealed: “Work was suspended while laboratory tests on the material were undertaken. The test results confirmed that the material was an asbestos containing material (ACM) and, as required under current legislation, the Health and Safety Executive were notified.

The report added that the material was found in the joints between the two halves of each cable band clamped around the main cable and supporting each vertical hanger cable. While the reasons for the ACM’s use when the bridge was being built between 1959 and 1961 are unknown, “it is presumed to have been considered a cheap and readily available packaging material to take up any irregularities in the castings of the cable bands prior to the application of joint sealant.”

An already-hefty bill made even greater

 The report said that overall costs had increased due to the delay caused by the halt of work and the expense of the required safety measures, meaning the final bill would now be £7.5m, instead of the initial £6m.

The contractor is said to have switched to 24-hour working to accommodate the delay and get the job done, with it now being hoped that the works will be complete by October, subject to weather conditions.

Approval for the additional funding will need to be given by the Cabinets and full councils of Cornwall Council and Plymouth City Council. The money would be provided through borrowing over 25 years.

The report to the committee said that in the absence of approval for such funding, termination of the works would be necessary.

It explained: “The works are critical to ensure the resilience of the suspension system and significant costs have already been incurred developing access arrangements and working methods. The works will need to be completed in the near future. Significant abortive costs would be associated with such termination.”

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