Council bosses have been accused of not doing enough to help people walk or cycle into Newcastle during a restoration of the Tyne Bridge.

Long-awaited repair work on the iconic bridge started earlier this month and is expected to last until 2028.

With two of the bridge’s four lanes being shut for the next two years, motorists have been urged to walk, cycle, or use public transport instead of their cars – with the restrictions already causing substantial rush hour tailbacks.

But Tyneside transport chiefs have been criticised for not putting more new measures in place ahead of the vast engineering project’s start in order to encourage more people to change their journeys.

It comes after a freedom of information request from the Liberal Democrats confirmed that £125,000 awarded to Newcastle and Gateshead by Active Travel England in March 2023 has been spent solely on developing plans to mitigate the impact of the bridge project that could be put forward in future funding bids, rather than putting in place any physical improvements now.

A cyclists’ group told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that, with other works also causing disruption on routes including the High-Level Bridge and Grey Street, it was “hard to imagine how it could be worse” for people trying to use their bikes to get into the city centre.

Newcastle City Council insisted that it had “a number of mitigation measures in place to help keep Tyneside moving” and that it hoped to unlock funding for further cycling upgrades in the “near future”.

A regional transport plan published last year listed ambitions for the creation of bike parking “hubs” at park and ride locations, new cycle and e-bike hire, improved signage, and pavement upgrades to be delivered “at pace”.

But Newcastle Lib Dem councillor claimed local authority chiefs risked missing a “golden opportunity to encourage people out of their cars and on to renewable forms of transport or on to active forms of travel”.

He said: “Questions need to be asked why money has been spent coming up with plans, rather than actually getting on and delivering them. If we wanted to get people thinking about alternatives to the Tyne Bridge then these options should have been put in place before the closures, not part way through.”

A spokesperson for the Newcastle Cycling Campaign told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “Works on the Tyne Bridge have signs asking cyclists to dismount, Pilgrim Street is still unfinished, Grey Street is unfinished with currently no cycle provision, the High-Level Bridge is also being refurbished with restricted space for those walking and cycling. Information online merely directs people to Google Maps. 

“Those who were already cycling this journey are finding it difficult. It’s hard to imagine how it could be worse.”

But Newcastle City Council defended its record, saying that a “pinch point” for pedestrians and cyclists at the south end of the bridge had been widened and that the restoration work had to begin “at the earliest opportunity” once funding from the Government had been secured.

They added: “We’ve also ensured that one footpath is available for walking and cycling at all times throughout the construction period, as well as looking at how we can improve signage to link up with other walking and cycling routes in the city and introduced secure cycle storage in the city centre.

“Initially a sign had been placed at the Tyne Bridge to encourage cyclists to dismount as they entered the works, but that signage has been removed and replaced with signs encouraging cyclists to give way to pedestrians if the footpath is busy.

In addition to improvements that have already been made, we are also developing new proposals, which is ongoing and reliant on funding opportunities being available.

“We were awarded £125,000 by Active Travel England to develop plans for cycling infrastructure improvements in both Gateshead and Newcastle, this work is considerably underway. This will enable us to unlock funding in the near future to implement these additional improvements.

“We are committed to promoting active travel across the city and will continue to listen to our residents to understand how we can create a safer, cleaner and greener Newcastle.”