East Lancashire motorway bridges checked out over safety concerns after incidents
A meeting of Lancashire County Council heard that the structures - on a stretch of the M65 - had been surveyed to determine what could be done to make them more secure.
The authority’s chairman, Alan Cullens, requested that his fellow county councillors abide by guidance issued by The Samaritans which recommends that locations where suspected suicides have taken place are not highlighted in pubic forums, so as not to “exacerbate” the problem. To that end, the discussion did not refer to any individual bridges along the route, nor to specific incidents or total numbers.
The matter was raised by Labour opposition group leader - and Nelson East representative - Azhar Ali who acknowledged that several "improvements” had been made over the years. However, he said that it was important to tackle the outstanding issues.
“[This ranges] from people being able to get out onto the bridge or actually out onto the motorway,” he explained.
County Cllr Ali said that while natural vegetation often helped mitigate the risks, the authority was obliged “to do everything we can [to reduce them as far as possible], especially when we’ve [agreed] the Lancashire anti-suicuide strategy”.
He added that the potential for self-harm was not the only issue with the bridges, warning that some of them also posed a risk to curious youngsters.
“I’ve seen small children walking along some of those bridges and just trying to lean over [or] jumping up to try and have a look. Sometimes you wait with bated breath and think, hang on, [they] could have a fall,” County Cllr Ali said.
Most motorway bridges in Lancashire are the responsibility of National Highways. However, part of the M65 has historically been managed and maintained by the county council.
Cabinet member for highways and transport Rupert Swarbrick said that changes had already been made to three bridges following the surveys that were carried out on them, while signage, designed by The Samaritans, had been attached to others bearing “a simple message about seeking help by phoning a helpline”.
The ruling Conservative and opposition Labour groups crafted a motion on which they could both agree - which was also supported by the Liberal Democrats and Green Party - committing County Hall to taking “all reasonable preventative measures…to reduce significantly the risk of falls and other critical incidents” from and on all the motorways bridges under its control.
The authority’s chief executive will also write to National Highways asking the organisation “to take similar steps” in relation to the structures in the county for which it is responsible.
In a statement issued after the meeting, Lancashire County Council’s director of public health and wellbeing, Dr. Sakthi Karunanithi, said: "As part of our commitment to working with partners to prevent suicide, we have taken a number of actions to improve safety on the motorway bridges we're responsible for.
"We have assessed all bridges which are publicly accessible to the same standards used by National Highways, which is responsible for the vast majority of UK motorways. We have carried out improvements to three of them, and are considering further improvements where the surveys have highlighted issues.
"'We are in the process of erecting specialist signage designed by The Samaritans stating the 24-hour free phone number 116 123 for people who need to talk.
"As a council we also follow The Samaritans guidance which encourages organisations to avoid highlighting the locations where deaths arising from falls have taken place to avoid exacerbating the problem."