Save Our Stones

Campaign to Increase Usability of The Stones River Crossing at Burley-in Wharfedale

Why No Bridge

Efforts have been ongoing at Burley-in-Wharfedale since 1901 to build a bridge across the river. All have come to nought.

In 1919, it was proposed to build a bridge to commemorate all those who died in the First World War but even this eminently worthy cause met with failure.

In 1996, the Burley Bridge Association (BBA) was formed. Its website can be seen here. It has campaigned, secured the services of journalist and well known lover of hiking Janet Street-Porter. However, it has failed to make progress for the following reasons.

1) Refusal of consent by landowners

2) Inconsistent campaign by the BBA

3) Lack of funding

Looking at these in more detail:

1) Refusal Of Landowners Consent

The overriding reason a bridge cannot succeed is that to build anything, permission of the landowners is required and this is not forthcoming. In 14 years existence, the BBA have failed to secure the necessary consents. The local authorities involved (Harrogate and Bradford) have given no indication they would use any kind of compulsory powers and in particular, their Right Of Way Improvement Plans – see Further Research - lack any commitment to a bridge at Burley.

Without landowner consent/compulsory powers it is impossible to see how a bridge can be built.

Although the BBA periodically get optimistic articles printed in the local paper about “progress”, they fail to address this fundamental issue. A recent article in the Ilkley Gazette on 10 June 2010  with the headline "Optimism over bid to get footbridge", was challenged by a Save Our Stones supporter in a published letter to the editor which read:

"I read with depressing familiarity your article “Optimism over bid to get footbridge” (Ilkley Gazette, June 10). Last year I added my name to the Save Our Stones website and attended a Parish Council meeting in December in support of the campaign to get the right of way across the river at Burley-in-Wharfedale via the old flow control/stepping stones restored to a more viable condition. This was on the basis that apart from any design or funding issues, the refusal of landowners to give consent for a bridge meant it could never be built and that restoration of the stones was better than nothing.

To have this “optimism” now after 14 years campaigning, presumably the Burley Bridge Association have secured the agreement to a bridge from the landowners at least in principle or confirmation from the local authorities that they will deploy appropriate compulsory powers.

Perhaps the Burley Bridge Association could confirm this – or is this another wind-up of public expectation with no basis of probability?"

The response from the Burley Bridge Association, also published, confirmed there was no agreement from landowners. It read:

"Regarding the letter from John Kelly on the Burley Bridge (Gazette, June 17), we can confirm that the Burley Bridge Association (BBA) has no agreement to a bridge with the landowners concerned, neither do we have confirmation from the local authorities to use compulsory powers.

There are several factors which have meant that a safe crossing at Burley has not happened yet. Apart from landowner agreement there are legal, planning, technical and financial issues. Several local campaigns to remedy the lack of a safe river crossing since the beginning of the 20th century have come to nought; the present campaign which started in 1996 has achieved the most so far. Planning permission for a footbridge was received in 1999. This did not go ahead due to lack of landowner support.

However, good ideas do not die. Our campaign continues for a safe crossing to remedy the absurd situation at Burley. Our optimism arises in part from the local authorities agreeing that a footbridge is preferred to an all-user bridge.

The BBA would be happy to see the stepping stones made viable, but the River Wharfe is volatile and will always have the last word. It can rise quickly and leave pedestrians who have crossed over on the stones stranded on the opposite bank. A stepping-stones crossing surely comes a poor second to a bridge.

The BBA may accept criticism for its relative lack of achievement, and realises that support for a bridge is not universal. However it should be borne in mind that this is a new project, there is no precedent of an old bridge once being there. There are two local authorities involved and the topography of the site is not easy. Nevertheless, the right-of-way itself is well known and has been used for many years by the public, until recent times. The weir and stepping stones site is a popular location and well visited. The Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is reached when you step onto the north bank, where there is a good network of local public footpaths and bridleways.

At Burley Library there is currently a BBA display, which includes details of a walk on Saturday, July 3, arranged by the BBA. The eight-mile linear walk is part of Otley Walking Festival and starts from the north bank of the Wharfe, across the river from Burley, going to Thruscross Reservoir. Walkers will use a minibus to reach Askwith and return on it from Thruscross. Further details are available on 01943 466858.

Colin Newton

Denis Read

Madeline Rylands

Peter Young

Members of the BBA Committee"

There is no argument that a bridge would be a better safer route for the Right of Way but the BBA give no explanation as to how a footbridge can be built now when a footbridge previously could not secure landowners' consents. Consent is an issue which logically should have been addressed first. If this cannot be resolved, other work is superfluous. In the absence of such consents or local authority compulsory powers, one can only conclude that expectation of a bridge being constructed is unrealistic.

2) Inconsistent BBA Campaign

Having started life as a simple footbridge (which is all that is needed for walkers), designs graduated to a ludicrously extravagant and consequently expensive design incorporating wheelchair access plus a viewing platform plus a separate section for horses. This resulted in a design which was 4.55 metres wide or 15 feet wide! Sketches reproduced from the BBA website can be seen here. Some (but not all) have now been removed from their website. It alienated much public opinion because such a bridge is totally out of keeping with the tranquil rural location. Indeed, at a meeting of the Nidderdale Joint Advisory Committee held at Nell Bank on 1 July 2009, it was said that:

"the proposal has got out of control what started out as a simple walking bridge has become a large structure out of scale to the area."

Some horse riders have also given plenty of indication that they did not want or need a bridge.

The West Riding Area of the Ramblers’ Association also expressed a preference for a footbridge, and this was re-affirmed at their meeting of the Executive Committee on January 4th 2010.

Save Our Stones has always said a simple "single carriageway" bridge of the lowest cost design possible was the only solution proportionate to the need (i.e. a footbridge for walkers).

In March 2010, the BBA went back to proposing a "footbridge".  Details as to what exactly this means are awaited. Save Our Stones has written to the BBA urging a "footbridge" should be exactly and only that which would be appropriate to the location and proportionate to the need, quoting some examples. Click here to view them.

According to the Lower Wharfedale Ramblers website (viewed on 12 October 2010)

"There is a lot happening at the moment. A new set of plans and advisory support is being bought from a company with wide experience in building such structures."

One can only hope the landowners consent issue is being addressed otherwise whatever is being spent here will be yet more money down the drain.

3) The cost of proposed designs escalated as follows:

£200,000 - From Telegraph and Argus 18 November 2004

£600,000 - From Burley Parish Council Neighbourhood Forum Minutes 19 January 2006. From Burley Parish Council Neighbourhood Forum Minutes 19 January 2006.

£800,000 - As at 4 November 2008 - From Burley Bridge Association website  

c £1,000,000 From Ramblers Association as at 20 August 2009.

So, costs escalated in 5 years by 500% - that's five hundred percent!!!!

To expect to be able to raise £1 million for a bridge simply to enable walkers to connect footpaths is simply unrealistic. The impact on costs of a reversion to a "footbridge" are not yet known. As at December 2009 (confirmed by them) the BBA funds stood at £11,000 which they say is just for campaigning.

Until we have any realistic indication that the bridge project can succeed  and some  sort of outline timetable for delivery, restoring the Right of Way across The Stones is still the most likely way of achieving some improvement to the crossing. Even the BBA include in their letter above that they would be happy to see the stepping stones made more viable.

The BBA have also come in for criticism because although they have a website (which can be viewed here), they failed to publish minutes of their meetings or their accounts. Following this criticism, I am pleased to say the BBA has changed and full minutes are now published.

The inability to secure landowners’ consents or local authority consents potentially means the BBA may have funds which are in effect “orphan”. It is suggested that in this instance they are donated either to the Parish Council for use in restoring The Stones or the Burley Community Council who look after various village amenities.

Click for next page Final Thoughts