Save Our Stones

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

History Of The Stones

There has been a route across the river via some stones since 1920 but their origin is older. The phrase "some stones" is used as although they have been used as stepping stones, their original purpose was to direct the flow of water and prevent "scouring" of the river bank threatening the adjacent weir.

However, whatever they were for, the fact is they provided a pedestrian route across the river which has become a Right of Way through habitual use. This was upheld following a public inquiry into their status in 1968. Bradford Council also confirmed it's acceptance of the status of "the stones" in the late 1970's when they restored over 75% of them. It was also reaffirmed by Bradford MDC (Highways Structures) on 5 December 2005 to a meeting of the  Ilkley Parish Council and most recently at a meeting to discuss The Stones on 10 May 2010.

According to Bradford Council's Report on Potential Conservation Area 

"The weir was built in 1792 in order to divert water into the newly constructed mill goit and ensure a steady flow of water which was used to power the mill. At the foot of the stone weir is a row of stepping-stones which appear to be contemporary with the weir.

The weir is intact and is a piece of industrial archaeology. The monolithic stepping-stones appear to be complete, though the middle section was submerged by the Wharfe at the time of survey."

They also say "Site of Ecological or Geological Importance".

Various dates have previously been quoted and although it does not materially affect the crucial issues, in fact "The Stones" now appear to have been installed about 1895 as part of works to install a stilling pool to protect the weir.  Evidence of this is provided at  Section 79 of the 1968 Public Hearing Presided Over By A.A. Sloma, Barrister At Law.

This same Public Enquiry also held at Section 105 (2) that the route over The Stones was a public route.

Although Bradford MDC (Highways Structures) confirmed to a meeting of the Ilkley Parish Council  on 5 December 2005 that The Stones were originally constructed not as stepping stones but as a water control structure designed to protect the upstream weir from “scour”, Bradford Council clearly do accept them as Stepping Stones in their Conservation Report. 

Highways Structures also said that a High Court Injunction existed which prevented BMDC from altering the structure. This stems from Ilkley UDC’s attempts to repair "The Stones" in 1949. An injunction was served by Fisons mill to stop that work and to return the stones to the condition they were in before Ilkley UDC commenced work. In addition to the injunction, it was held that whilst Ilkley UDC may have a duty to repair, they had no power to improve. In addition, Ilkley UDC started work on the Askwith side of the river i.e. in Wharfedale Rural District Council jurisdiction and, as no cross boundary agreement existed in those days, it had no powers to do work on that side. To this day Bradford Council do not have power to carry out improvements (as opposed to "maintenance" for which they do have responsibility and power)  without the landowner's consent.

They were prevented from changing the level or spacing of the stones. Although the legal department at Bradford MDC was supposed to pursue the matter, nothing seems to have happened.

Several points arise.

  • The mill is no longer there so any reason connected with the mill functions themselves for the injunction no longer exist.
  • Because The Stones were to prevent erosion below the weir, if they disappear/become damaged, then presumably scouring will occur and put the weir (a piece of industrial archeology) at risk. If it failed, it would no doubt be at high water levels, the consequence being a tidal wave downstream with who knows what flooding possibilities. At a guess, the road between Burley and Otley, Otley bridge and the cottages close by it at least would be at risk of a flash flood.  Whether a bridge is built or not, it appears The Stones should be repaired anyway to protect the weir.
  • Until such time as we  ever get a bridge (or more likely because we will not) The Stones should be restored to maintain the Right of Way which has existed since the early 1960s when a claim that the public had gained a right of way by usage was upheld following a public inquiry into their status.
  • Whether any injunction is extant is unclear but in any case, although it might prevent improvement to "The Stones", it does not preclude maintenance. "Maintenance" – restoring them to the original levels and positions to preserve their intended purpose - would not constitute improvement.
  • If it is not maintained and eventually not used, we could lose the Right of Way.
  • The site is of ecological or geological importance so changes to the river flow as The Stones disappear could be detrimental.
  • The Stones are part of Burley's industrial heritage.

For all the above reasons, the injunction if it still applies, should be revoked and The Stones maintained. In any case,  "maintenance" does not constitute improvement.

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