BT battles for access to Humber Bridge

Roger Pearson reports on a row between BT and the Humber Bridge Board over access to telecom cables on the crossing.

A legal battle centring on the Humber Bridge is heading for the High Court.

The Humber Bridge Board faces a courtroom confrontation with British Telecom as the latest move in a row over access to the bridge which dates back to 1994.

BT wants to install a second fibre optic cable on the bridge. It is seeking access to carry out the work which it says is vital if it is to meet future telecom needs. But it claims the board is blocking its way.

BT originally issued a writ in Humberside in 1994 against the board. Now, in a move which indicates that any negotiation between the parties has reached deadlock, the case has been transferred to the High Court in London.

BT claims that the existing fibre optic cable is inadequate to meet customer demands and it wants to install a new cable along the same line as the existing one.

It seeks declarations that it can lawfully send its workers onto the bridge to carry out the work and that it will not have to pay extra charges for doing so.

BT claims that the board has consented to the installation of telephone lines in the special accommodation provided on the bridge, and has no right to attempt to charge for access.

It alleges it owns ducts, supports, brackets and other items on the bridge and is legally entitled to maintain and use them.

When the case reaches court, BT will argue that the board is obliged, by the Humber Bridge Act 1959, to provide accommodation for the telegraphic lines of the then Postmaster General.

Steel ducts were built, through which telephone lines could be pulled, and 21 access chambers were provided, along with an internal walkway, and a single fibre optic cable was laid along the length of the bridge.

Access for the work will mean temporary closure of one lane of the bridge, but BT says it will liaise with the board to ensure this is done at the least inconvenient time if it wins the High Court action.