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A DEBATE needs to be had over the right weight limit for Marlow Bridge to avoid "persecuting" families in large vehicles, according the policeman who is responsible for enforcing it.

Inspector Scott Messenger is searching for a solution to the problem which saw drivers of large 4X4 vehicles prevented from crossing for being over the 3-tonne limit during a police operation last year.

Marlow's top-ranking officer said drivers of large vehicles are often unaware of the weight of their cars and cargo, and with some models of Range Rover and Land Rover straddling the 3-tonne mark, it is tough for police to enforce.

If a structural report found the bridge capable of taking more weight, then Inspector Messenger suggested a higher limit such as 3.5 tonnes would mean most 4X4s would fall within it and the limit would be easier to police..

He said: "It’s fair to say that last time we enforced it, depending on who you talk to, it was the most popular or reviled thing in Marlow.

"The bridge is an iconic part of Marlow and there are more sensible ways of dealing with it rather than constant enforcement.

"The limit is very difficult to enforce and I know of a lot of people who just do not know what their vehicles weigh.

"There needs to be a debate about the right weight limit for Marlow Bridge due to the proliferation of 4X4 vehicles, many of which are close to if not over the current limit.

"I want to make it clear we are committed to discouraging large vans and commercial vehicles who clearly should not use the bridge, but I do not want to discriminate against families just for choosing to drive a large car.

"The last thing the police want to do is persecute middle England. The bridge is an iconic structure and we are committed to enforcing the limit, but what the limit is should be debated."

Opinion was divided over a police operation in October which saw fines totalling £800 handed out to commercial vehicles and more controversially, some large cars being asked to turn around.

Marlow MP Dominic Grieve backed the operation, saying drivers of large cars should be prepared to take a detour and use the A404 bypass instead

While Insp. Messenger insists enforcement is still important and the bridge's protection paramount, he believes better signage along with a fresh council study into the limit is a good idea.

He said: "As things have moved on, in conjunction with Transport for Bucks, we need to have a good look at the signage, it’s a work in progress.

"I totally understand the way the council have to work but from a police perspective we work very quickly, and if we identify a problem, we sort it out, whereas the council has to think a lot more strategically and with long term planning.

"There’s the consultation process and the budget restraints and I understand that, but in an ideal world I would look for them to change the limit to 3.5 tons and improve the signage. It would at least clear up the confusion."

Transport for Bucks said it is prepared to have a debate over the situation, insisting the highways authority shares the police’s concern about preserving the bridge.

Spokesman Dan Elworthy said: "As with any project, we always welcome working collaboratively with our colleagues from Thames Valley Police.

"Any request to make changes to weight restrictions on bridges would need thorough investigation and consultation to make sure any changes do not compromise the safety of the bridge.

"We look forward to working with TVP regarding Marlow Bridge to reach the appropriate outcome."