17 July 1981: The Queen officially opens the Humber bridge

A bridge across the River Humber had been proposed as early as the 1860s, and approval was granted with the 1959 Humber Bridge Act. However, raising the funds proved to be a problem, and the project stalled.

Eventually, national politics would step in and decide the fate of the bridge.

In 1966, Harold Wilson’s Labour government had a very fragile grasp on power. With a tiny and unworkable majority, the death of the Labour MP for North Hull in November 1965 meant a by-election the government could not afford to lose.

So the transport secretary, Barbara Castle, was despatched up north to promise the people of Hull and north Lincolnshire that the bridge would go ahead.

Work began in 1972, and took nine years, with the bridge finally opening to traffic on 24 June 1981. At 2,220m, it was the longest single-span suspension bridge in the world.

Financially speaking, the bridge has had a terrible time. It was originally estimated to cost £28m, but this soon rose to £98m. By the time the bridge had opened in 1981, the total cost had risen to £151m.

By 2011, interest had taken the bridge’s debt to some £330m. In the 2011 Autumn Statement, George Osborne agreed to cut £150m from the debt, and in March 2012, the interest rate on the remaining debt was reduced to 4.25%.

Long derided as a white elephant and a classic example of a politically motivated ‘bridge to nowhere’, the Humber bridge does, in fact, make an operating profit. In the year to the end of March 2013, the bridge took £13.7m in tolls and made a surplus of £9.4m. However, the cost of servicing the debt reduced this to a deficit of just under £1m.

Merryn

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