This is an updated version of a Q and A about the bridge project originally published on the BBA website in Spring 2015 following planning consent being given, updated to take into account objection comments raised during the 2018 public consultation planning process, and further updated in November 2022.
Need for a bridge Q: Why build a bridge in Burley when there are sufficient crossing points of the river nearby at Otley, Ben Rhydding and Ilkley? A: Ben Rhydding and Otley bridges are approximately 2.5 miles and 3.5 miles away respectively and only reached alongside busy, polluted and noisy roads. While they may be suitable for car travel to access the north bank, they are not convenient or suitable for most walkers, runners and other people from Burley who say they would prefer a quiet, safe and traffic free crossing. A bridge would inevitably attract more walkers into Burley which would benefit local businesses. A 42 mile recreational trail, the Yorkshire Heritage Way, devised by the BBA in conjunction with Ramblers, links Bradford and Saltaire with Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal and Ripon, crossing the river in Burley. A diversion route using Denton Bridge for when the river is unsafe to cross adds a further two miles to the trail. Launched at Bradford Cathedral in May 2022 with over 80 people walking one or more stages, significant funding was provided from the West Yorkshire Combined Authority's Active Travel Fund. Over 600 copies of the route guide had been sold by November 2022. Over time this will benefit hospitality businesses in Burley.
Q: Why not accept the unpredictability of whether it is possible to cross the stepping stones and adapt plans accordingly? A: The stepping stones are a public right of way but are often inaccessible for eight or more months of the year, and can be dangerous and slippery to walk on at other times, particularly after winter water levels have recently reduced. Water levels also rise extremely quickly on the Wharfe and the stones can easily be covered less than a two hour period following rain upstream. Walking groups, athletic clubs, youth groups such as the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme and local schools, find it difficult to plan to cross the river using the stones for organised events (for instance cross country races) because of the risks involved. Individuals may choose to use the stones but occasionally have found themselves marooned on the north bank. The temptation to cross the river while in spate in order to avoid a 5 to 7 mile detour could lead to inappropriate risks being taken. The death of a young Burley teenager, John, in 1967 arose from this scenario. The bridge will not remove access to the stepping stones, which will remain as a 'fun' means of crossing the river for those able to do so.
Q: Why not raise the height of the stepping stones as an alternative to the bridge? Raising the height of the stones could lengthen the period when thee river is crossable, but they would still form a barrier for many people, for instance those who have restricted mobility, or who have sensory impairment. Higher stones may also encourage more people to risk crossing the river when it is in spate, with a greater risk of injury. Q: Why is the bridge supported by Burley Parish Council and by North Yorkshire and Bradford Councils? A: There is a recorded history of support for a bridge at the stepping stones site in Burley by Burley and Ilkley Councils going back to the early 1900s. More recently, Burley Parish Council included the bridge in its Neighbourhood Plan as one of the top priorities for the village, following widespread support for the project by Burley residents during the public consultation stage and associated events. The Neighbourhood Plan was approved by Bradford Council following an 82% vote in favour at the referendum in May 2018. Both North Yorkshire and Bradford Councils include the bridge within their respective Rights of Way Improvement Plans, given the strategic importance the crossing has for linking the extensive footpath network on both sides of the river. Officers from both councils have continued to give advice and support for the project. The project has received long term support from the local MP Philip Davies, who has been instrumental in setting up council meetings and in securing important legal advice from Alok Sharma, then Minister of Housing and Planning. This covered the legal powers potentially available to local councils in order to secure access to construction sites involving public rights of way, where landowner consent was not forthcoming. Both Councils' Legal Services Teams subsequently confirmed that they were prepared to use these powers if necessary. There has also been consistent support from local ward councillors and from the local Labour party.
Appearance Q:The bridge design is ugly / awful / huge / too modern / more suited to a city location. Why not build a suspension bridge such as at Hebden / a wooden bridge such as Bolton Abbey / a traditional stone bridge? The current bridge has been designed by award winning bridge designers GHD, a regionally based engineering company with a strong track record for designing and building bridges in environmentally sensitive locations where appearance is important. The previous design, a two tower suspension bridge, has been modified by GHD to being a smaller structure with single tower in order to reduce visual and environmental impact on the north bank. This also followed feedback from objectors in previous planning applications. The height of the deck of the bridge is governed by flood level requirements from the Environment Agency. The bridge has to be built for an estimated life of 125 years, hence the use of steel rather than wood to ensure durability and has to be affordable. Local stone will be used to face the base of the tower and plinth on the north bank.
Site for the bridge Q: Have all other sites for the bridge been fully assessed? What about Greenholme Mills, where there are plans for a mixed residential and commercial development? A: The proposed site was selected after careful assessment of all the alternatives because of the existence of well-known and long established rights of way on both sides of the river as well as the two crossing the river (the footpath and the bridleway). An earlier suggestion by Burley Parish Council that Greenholme Mills could be a more appropriate site was followed up immediately with the north bank landowner. He responded through his land agent that he would strongly oppose a bridge at the mill site or at any other point along the river and the creation of new public rights of way across his property. This was a similar response to that made when the idea was first raised by the BBA much earlier in the campaign for the bridge. An early design for the bridge crossed the river immediately above Burley Weir. Although this was given planning consent, the then landowner on the north bank refused to agree for a new public right of way to link to the existing one, so was not proceeded with.
Q: Are there any plans to improve the bridleway that crosses the river at the ford close to bridge site? A: The BBA is willing to look at what improvements could be made to the ford in order to improve the ability of horses to cross safely. This would need to be done in conjunction with landowners owners on both banks and of the river bed - the West Riding Anglers Association. Some informal discussion has already taken place with horse riders to identify how the crossing could be improved. The new single tower bridge will not conflict with use of the bridleway, with the required 3 metre width being maintained down the access slope to the river edge. An improvement to the surface of the bridleway ramp to the river would be planned, in conjunction with the landowner, Bradford Council, and representatives of horse riders.
Funding Q: How will the bridge be funded? A: The construction and maintenance costs of the bridge will be funded entirely from voluntary sources, with no financial demand on either North Yorkshire or Bradford councils. Applications for capital funding will be made to businesses, grant giving trusts and to government funds supporting the uptake of recreational activity such as walking, running and cycling. Local fundraising events will be held, and members of the public will be invited to make donations.
Q: Wouldn’t the money be better spent on community police officers, or other community facilities such as a sports pavilion, a car park and so on? A: The BBA will be targeting specialist sources of funding that fund large capital and infrastructure projects which enable local communities to increase the take up of walking, running and cycling, not revenue projects involving salaries. As the focus of the project is a bridge to provide an accessible link within a public rights of way network, the BBA does not envisage applying to the same sources of funding that would fund a sports pavilion or a car park. Members of the public are free to choose which local project or charity they wish to support. Q: Where has the money gone that the BBA has already raised? A: The majority of the money raised by the BBA from membership subscriptions and donations has paid for design work, detailed plans, surveys and for other costs associated with planning applications to Bradford and Harrogate Councils including the fees for the applications themselves. The BBA has produced detailed independently audited accounts for many years which are distributed to BBA members and supporters prior to and during the AGM which clearly indicate sources of income and expenditure. Since becoming a charity in August 2015, the BBA is also required to submit audited annual accounts to the Charity Commission, and these are available to see on the Charity Commission website. Copies of recent accounts can also be found on the BBA website. BBA Committee members rarely if ever claim expenses incurred, even though they are entitled to do so.
Q: Is the BBA listening to concerns? A: Trustees from the BBA are always prepared to discuss concerns about the bridge, and can be contacted via the group’s email address: email@example.com . Previous designs for a bridge have been rejected following concerns being raised by Burley residents. The current design (2022) of a single tower bridge by bridge engineers GHD was changed from the previous two tower design taking into account concerns raised during the last planning application of 2018 about the visual and environmental impact on the north bank of the river. AGMs are always open to the public as well as to members and supporters. Developments in the campaign are published on the BBA website, local media is regularly used, and the BBA Facebook page provides an opportunity for comments to be made. AGM minutes are also published on the website. A decision not to publish minutes of Trustee meetings was taken in the autumn of 2015 due to the confidential nature of discussions with landowners and local stakeholders. A public consultation held in November 2022 had more than 80 people attend, all but a couple being local residents. Members of the design team including bridge engineers were on hand to answer questions. Many people left comments and all of them including objections will be submitted with the planning application.
Maintenance Q: How will the maintenance of the bridge be organised and funded? A: Burley in Wharfedale Community Trust has agreed in principle to take over responsibility for the bridge from the Burley Bridge Association following construction, to manage the maintenance fund and ensure that the maintenance schedule is adhered to. Bradford Council has indicated they may also be prepared to consider adopting the bridge providing that a ‘dowry fund’ was provided to cover long term costs. The fundraising target for the bridge will include an element to cover life time maintenance and repair costs. The bridge has been deliberately designed to be rugged, durable and simple with no paint finishes, no cladding, no moving parts and no drainage, therefore having low maintenance costs.
Q: Who will maintain the stepping stones in the future? A: Currently, the stones are maintained by Bradford Council, by agreement with North Yorkshire Council. Significant repairs were undertaken in June 2013 by Bradford Council following flood damage which had made the stones hazardous and inaccessible due to gaps for a number of years. The stones apparently form a hydrological function as well as being a public right of way, however, and will probably need to be maintained following the transfer of the right of way to the bridge. The stones’ future maintenance needs and costs, and whether they could remain to be usable in the long term would need to be the subject of future discussion including between the Environment Agency and the landowner.
Support for the bridge Q: What are the views of those Burley residents living closest to the proposed site of the bridge? A: Residents of Greenholme Cottages or Leatherbank are understandably anxious about any disruption that would be caused to them through the construction phase, and thereafter by the impact of an increase in the numbers of people passing close to their properties (by using the public right of way in order to access the bridge). In terms of the construction phase, the BBA is committed to ensuring contractors work closely with residents in order to minimise the impact of construction traffic and noise from the site through frequent liaison meetings. A method statement for the construction phase will be produced as part of the detailed design stage. Any damage caused to the private access road by construction vehicles will be rectified on completion of the project.
Q: Do most of the campaigners for the bridge live outside Burley? A: Five of the current seven trustees of the Burley Bridge Association live in Burley. The majority of the BBA committee in previous years have also been Burley residents, with many remaining as BBA volunteers ,helping at fundraising events and distributing leaflets and newsletters. Out of over 300 BBA members and supporters in November 2022, 78% live in Burley and Burley Woodhead. A further 16% live in Menston, Ilkley, Otley and Guiseley. The remaining 6% live mostly in nearby communities such as Addingham, Harrogate, Bingley, Keighley and Leeds. During the public consultation events taking place in 2014 prior to the 2015 planning application, the 80 or so people attending were mostly Burley residents, with 5% objecting to the bridge. Similarly, of the 81 people attending the November 2022 public consultation event, all but two were Burley residents, with 16% objecting to the bridge.
Q: Does the bridge have any support from the Askwith community? A: At a presentation in 2017 by the BBA to the Mid Wharfedale Parish Council, covering Askwith, a number concerns were raise about the bridge project. These were largely fears about the potential impact of increased numbers of people from Burley walking to Askwith creating traffic hazards in the village because of the absence of footpaths. There was concern that the bridge would lead to an ‘urbanisation’ of Askwith, and there have also been concerns about a potential increase in litter and vandalism on the north bank. Privately, some residents have said that they would appreciate having a bridge in order to visit family and friends in Burley without needing to use a car. This was confirmed during the 2022 public consultation event. Businesses on the north bank would benefit from increase in trade from Burley residents, for instance the Askwith Arms public house. The Nidderdale AONB is also a strong supporter of the bridge as they would like to encourage more foot traffic into the AONB.
Anti-social behaviour Q: Won't a bridge would encourage ‘hoards’ of people into the village / people will risk their lives jumping from the bridge / there’s too much litter and drug taking already. The high numbers of people using the riverside area for recreation during sunny spells over the last three summers in particular have been unacceptable to landowners, neighbouring residents and many people in the village. Having been instrumental in developing formal litter management of the site since 2015, the BBA helped initiate riverside management meetings convened by the Parish Council, involving landowners, residents, the police and the BBA. These have supported the initiatives by neighbouring residents in restricting vehicle access to Leatherbank, a private road, and limiting recreational use of the private land on the north bank (through fencing and signage).
Greater police presence is anticipated during busy summer weekends along with improved cooperation between North and West Yorkshire Police forces to address anti-social behaviour including drug taking. Whether or not a bridge is built, the priority in the village should be ensuring such initiatives are supported and maintained. Bridge designers and engineers have consulted with West Yorkshire Police to ensure that the bridge design incorporates sufficient features to deter jumping and other anti-social behaviour on the bridge.