I appreciate residents and commuters who are reliant on the M48 Severn Bridge are concerned about delays with the cable inspection work. I visited on Friday to see for myself what is going on.
The whole deck of the bridge is attached to two main suspension cables - which are made up of 8,322 5mm diameter parallel high tensile steel strands – and it would be catastrophic if these failed.
There is a design flaw which has allowed moisture to enter very small spaces between the 5mm wires, causing corrosion. What National Highways and its contractors have to do is peel back the casing, open up the main cables, check for corrosion and repair any strands that may have snapped.
There is no threat to the long-term viability and safety of the bridge because of this vital work to ensure the cables remain in good condition. Measures implemented over the last 15 years, including acoustic monitors to identify any wire breaks and a dehumidification system, have also been effective.
We must not forget this Grade-I listed structure is a huge piece of steel sat in a hostile environment over the Severn Estuary. That unfortunately means there will be regular disruption and lane closures. However, I agree this could be better managed and it is an issue I have raised on numerous occasions with Highways England.
There is no point in hiding the bad news here and even though I am not an engineering expert, there were cables that were showing clear signs of corrosion. It cannot be ignored otherwise the alternative is permanent closure, which would be unthinkable. So we need to look at other ways of tackling congestion in Chepstow, such as a bypass or changes to the configuration of High Beech roundabout to improve capacity.
I fully understand the frustration of everyone, but the contractors working on the bridge are doing a great job and having made it to the top (just about!) I have nothing but admiration for people who can dangle off cables at that height.
There is understandable local disappointment after Welsh Ministers in Cardiff Bay gave the go ahead for a largescale solar farm at Penpergwm near Abergavenny. It is very difficult to challenge planning decisions without a judicial review, which is incredibly expensive.
I was opposed to this project from the start as destroying prime agricultural land seems completely counterintuitive and I am still unsure exactly how Monmouthshire itself will benefit. However, several obligations have been placed on the developers as part of the approved planning permission and certain criteria must be met. I will be watching carefully to see if that happens.