Warrington Council has called for urgent talks with Peel Ports aimed at reducing disruption to traffic in the town centre caused by opening the swing bridge on the Manchester Ship Canal to allow freight vessels to pass.
A council spokesman said in a statement said: ""The Manchester Ship Canal Act of 1885 gives Peel Ports a lot of power. But things have changed a great deal since 1885 and Peel need to acknowledge this. If they don't, they could cause avoidable traffic problems in and around Warrington. They could cause increasing annoyance to residents, businesses, visitors and through-traffic and they could risk harming our local economy.
"Peel need to understand that with power comes responsibility. If they operate their bridges in a purely self-interested way, if they don't take into account other people's needs, they'll cause problems.
"The council can help minimise the problems, but Peel must play their part, and we need them to make a reasonable compromise as soon as possible. That's why we've asked for top-level meetings to sort this issue out.
"Warrington Borough Council is confident that we can find a sensible way of working, provided Peel are prepared to give a little. The council will be bringing a set of reasonable, businesslike proposals to these talks, and we hope to come to a workable agreement."
The council believes vessel movements passing through the swing bridges at Warrington during the peak period can be kept at or below 150 per year. This would equate to 20% of the current 750 vessel movements a year. The council wants this percentage reduced to 15% over the next five years.
The council said Peel Ports have so far refused to agree to this.
Gary Hodgson, chief operating officer for the Peel Ports Group, based in Liverpool, responded: "We are somewhat disappointed by Warrington Borough Council's comments regarding the swing bridges in Warrington as we have been engaged in active – and what we thought was constructive – dialogue with the cabinet member for transportation as well as with other senior highways officials within the council.
"The comments issued by Warrington Borough Council today seem to suggest some disconnect within the council organisation. In a series of meetings with them over the last two years we have discussed and agreed a number of actions to mitigate the issues associated with the swing bridges; actions which are exactly in line with the proposed support measures that the council details in its comments today. Peel Ports has already implemented a number of these measures, including increasing the number of night time and off-peak sailings, to help ease traffic issues in Warrington.
"Further to that, Peel Ports has also carried out all the required actions to support an 'early warning' swing bridge alert system; we now just await implementation of the messaging by Warrington Borough Council on their signage and matrix warning infrastructure.
"We want to work productively with Warrington Borough Council on this issue and look forward to continuing our dialogue with them at the earliest opportunity."
Container barge services on the ship canal rose from 3,000 in 2009 to 15,000 by 2012. Customers include Kellogg's, Princes Food and Kingsland Wine. In 2012, Peel added a second crane at Irlam Container Terminal, upstream from Warrington.
The council's wishlist includes:
- Restrict number of bridge swings during peak periods to a minimum
- Providing advanced warning of planned shipping movements to stakeholders through the use of an early warning system
- Looking at modernising bridges so they swing faster, thus shortening times when road traffic is halted
- Using council swing bridge signs to inform the travelling public that a bridge has swung and that this is the reason for the delay
- Working to increase the proportion of sailings during the off-peak and night-time periods