Recently I embarked on my first ever trip outside Australia. For people around my age – 40 – it is relatively rare these days to find someone who had never climbed onto the long haul flight and headed off. It was an ambitious first trip – nearly 4 weeks in England, Ireland and Iceland. Over the next few weeks, the blog will catalogue the things I observed and liked. It won’t be chronological – more what takes my fancy.
We came back to Australia with a Penrith City Star on our front driveway, complete with articles about people in Penrith objecting to a new pedestrian / cycleway bridge over the Nepean River. That the former member for Lindsay, Jackie Kelly, is involved is interesting, considering that she lives not far from the proposed bridge. It comes at the tail end of a long campaign for a bridge that would see people in Penrith and Emu Plains be able to walk and cycle across the river in safety, ease and comfort – something that can’t be done these days with the existing bridges. The campaign has involved howls of objections, especially from rowing groups, who would experience a change in rowing course along the river, due to the need for pylons. These same rowing groups cannot afford to use the custom built Penrith Lakes rowing courses built for the Olympics.
The Green Bridge proposal has followed a typical NSW planning process timeline, considering that the original proposal from Penrith City Council was for a bridge with seats and other features that would make the bridge more of a destination for walkers, cyclists and tourists. The RMS’ proposal to the State Government doesn’t entirely fit with that vision – it provided three options, none of which with seats along the bridge. Two of them dull, conventional walk / cycle bridges that clash with the environment and would encourage just quick movement and probably vandalism of yet another concrete structure. The third, the only one to make it from the European design group that were consulted by Council, contains some of the original vision, but not all – it doesn’t encourage people to stay and sit on the bridge. It appears that the desire to bring a bridge in at $20 million has been the overriding desire.
It has been interesting because the city of Derry (to the British, Londonderry) has gone through this very same process with its Peace Bridge. Across the River Foyle, £15 million was spent on a bridge that was built between two quite different communities. On the west side of the Foyle has the city centre, but also an almost entirely Catholic community – including the well known Bogside area, which, amongst other events, experienced Bloody Sunday. On the east side, the community is roughly 50 / 50 Catholic / Protestant. There were objections raised, communities questioning whether people from both sides would cross to the other, the cost, the name. Fortunately for the city, all barriers were overcome and the bridge has been built.
In a city as contested and troubled as Derry / Londonderry has been, such a project has become a symbol of the optimism and the movement of the city to a new era. It has, for a start, witnessed a large increase of people wishing to cross from the east over to the west, either by walking, running or on cycle. When I was there near sunset, there was a lot of foot traffic. Our wonderful B and B hosts (from the East Side) also told us about the pride people had for the bridge. We could see why. The design has helped with the success of the bridge for the community. Its curve and seats have been crucial for its stunning look and encouragement to sit and enjoy the river and surrounds.
Also important are the seats – the Peace Bridge has two long seats, ideal for sitting and enjoying the view. During the day, the view is beautiful too.
And just in case you haven’t realised just how stunning the Peace Bridge really is from the bridge itself …
The Peace Bridge is rapidly becoming a tourist attraction by itself – and so it should. Like the city of Derry / Londonderry, it represents how people can rise above adversity and have a new, interesting future. Penrith should learn from Derry’s experience. Rowers should lobby governments to lower the prices at the Penrith Lakes. Local residents should see the wider benefits of opening the river to the community. The RMS and State Government should realise that by spending a touch more money, this 100 + year asset can be so much more than just a way of crossing a river speedily. Bridges can inspire and act as a magnet to an area. The Peace Bridge in Derry is one such project.