If there was one thing that summed up everything that was wrong with the "new" Green it was the pedestrian footbridge. This led from the junction of Balham Road, slap bang where Dales department store had been since the 19th Century, across to The Concourse. It was not unattractive in its way (it would probably have scrubbed up well, especially if given a few coats of paint) but it had one major drawback in that no one really wanted to use it. Very occasionally it was used, usually by parents accompanied by small children to whom it was a novelty, or on carnival day to give a good view. The pigeons quite liked it though.
I hadn't walked across the bridge for about twenty-five years. I sometimes thought I should do for the sake of nostalgia, or as a vantage point for photography, but somehow the thought of actually using it just felt wrong. However once it became clear it was soon to be demolished I decided it was time to walk over it and take some photos before it was too late.
It is worth considering just how inspired the architects and town planners were in creating this footbridge. Firstly consider the spiral ramps.You had to make about two complete circuits to get up to the top so when you got there you had not only walked quite some distance (it will be about six times the diameter remember and you have it again at the other end) but you may have been a bit dizzy too. You would also have been lucky if your stride pattern had been smooth because the ramps were stepped. Yes stepped. Isn't that brilliant? So it was not only inconvenient for those on foot but of little help to those pushing prams and totally hopeless for anyone in a wheelchair. Either steps or a ramp or both might have been useful but a combination of the two wasn't. As a footbridge it really was quite useless.
Secondly you have to consider the location. The shopping centre end was not so bad as it on the side of The Concourse and near one side of the bus station. However the other end was on the corner of Balham Road. Now that isn't so good. On the south-west side of Balham Road there would have been the Cross Keys pub when the bridge was built and little else, and now there is nothing on the street front at all. So we have to assume it was perhaps intended for people walking to/from Church Street and/or the railway station. However there are traffic light controlled crossings under the railway bridge and running from close to the station entrance across to the bus station and the shopping centre. So anyone wanting to use the bridge from that direction would have to ignore the crossings and walk about a fifty to a hundred yards further before the extra distance around the ramps.
On the other side of the junction there were once some shops but those were soon demolished and replaced by absolutely nothing for some distance. So maybe it helps the people travelling from that direction? Well not really because just around the bend there is another traffic light controlled crossing to opposite the North Square of the shopping centre so they would have to ignore that and again walk further.
That just leaves people going to and from Balham Road then? Well unfortunately no, because there is also a traffic light controlled crossing a short distance away on the other side of the road that is quicker and more convenient.
So really not only was the footbridge useless, but it was pointless too. It really does make you wonder what on earth they were thinking to not only design it but build it.
A contribution to the message board suggested that the footbridge might have been a relic of an earlier plan for the shopping centre and that it was intended to provide access from Balham Road directly into the first floor. The plans changed but the footbridge was kept on. I guess this is plausible but it still seems an unusual place to want to provide access from and in some ways it makes it even more nonsensical that it was built.
A later contribution suggests that the architect was one Loxley Ford who had been commissioned to design a high level walkway linking in with the station platforms and the shops so that once up on the walkway you could basically get anywhere. I can't see how it could ever have linked in with the shops but linking from the railway station would have made sense (and at platform level even more so) and perhaps even with the multi-storey too. It would certainly have made linking to Balham Road seem less absurd. Anyway the suggestion is that the footbridge was the first section built but the project was then abandoned for whatever reason. The walkway at the Concourse end did have a short dead end section which could suggest it was perhaps intended to continue elsewhere.
So perhaps the footbridge turned out to be more pointless than it needed have been because it was never meant to stand alone like it did. However even if there was a complete system it would have had limited potential while low level crossings still existed and it is hard to imagine those having been removed because the roads aren't very wide and have pedestrian crossings everywhere else. Really the useful component might have been a link from the bus station to the railway station at platform level with the link to Balham Road just being fluff. Even then those spiral ramps would still have been a stopper for many.
As a footbridge it really was a disaster. However as an unintentional folly, as a civic monument to the needless demolition, bad planning and poor design of the 60s and 70s, as a local curiosity, and as a local landmark it was a triumph.
The footbridge has served one useful purpose. Michael Crawford's famous roller skating stunt in "Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em" starts off in the roller skating rink at Pickett's Lock, is then seen skating over bollards which were actually on the entrance to the centre, and then appears coming down the eastern spiral walkway and grabbing onto a bus driving through the bus station.
The bridge should never have been built, but built it was. It settled into the landscape over the last thirty years and it belonged there. The Green will not be the same without it, and there are many who will miss it.
I had a suspicion that the bridge was likely to bite the dust in the redevelopments for some time but waited and waited to hear any news as it didn't seem possible that anyone could consider demolishing such a well known feature of Lower Edmonton without a big fanfare and plenty of time for public discussion. Then in June 2004 the Enfield Independent carried an anonymous public notice in the back pages regarding temporary night road closures that were required to facilitate the demolition of the bridge in the first weeks of August. Fortunately Martin Beckford of the Enfield Gazette and Advertiser spotted this and brought it to my attention before writing articles about it in both papers. I for one might not have spotted the notice and there are are many who don't get the Independent delivered so were denied the chance to see it. So it could have come about that the bridge would have started disappearing overnight without many being aware it was happening.
As it happens the demolition in August never happened but on 4th November 2004 a ceremony was held to signal the start of demolition of the bridge and the car park. The actual demolition started later in the month and the final removal of the last section was at the beginning of February 2005.
The bridge is being demolished by St Modwen rather than the council. It seems strange that a commercial organisation should own a bridge across a public highway. How did a public footbridge come to be considered part of a shopping centre anyway? St Modwen say that the bridge is being demolished to make way for the new bus station. So why was a design adopted that required demolition of the bridge? Where was the mandate from the public for that?
Ideally the footbridge should have been retained and refurbished and kept as an integral feature of The Green.
I relectantly accept the eastern end of the bridge had to go, especially once it was too late to do anything about it. However they should only have demolished that part of the bridge that directly interfered with the plans for the bus station. The rest should have remained for the time being as it wasn't hurting anyone. We should have had the western spiral ramp by Balham Road and a small part of the bridge preserved as a civic monument and reminder of the mistakes of the past. I might actually have gone further and left as much of the bridge intact as possible. It would have been good publicity being known as the town with a half a bridge.
As something of a postscript, I passed through The Green in May 2006. The site where the western ramp of the footbridge once stood is neat and tidy but is really just an empty site. I suppose one should welcome even the tiniest bit of green space to open the area up a bit as it gets closed down on the other side.