THE Canal and River Trust has made a U-turn over plans to unexpectedly close one of its swing bridges in Skipton for several months.
The charity said last week Gawflat Bridge, over the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, at the entrance to Aireville Park, would be closed within days and until spring next year because of safety concerns.
It was to be left in the 'open' position, so boats could still use the canal, but walkers and cyclists would have to cross at Brewery Lane, while vehicles would have to use Gargrave Road.
The charity said the closure was necessary because the bridge opening mechanism had been damaged. The bridge was not due to be replaced until next spring, and there were no funds to pay for repairs.
It planned for pedestrians to temporarily use a path from the park side of Gawflat, behind Hall Croft.
But following criticism from residents and councillors, the charity has decided against closing the bridge.
There was also confusion over whether the path behind Hall Croft was a public right of way, or just a permissive path.
Instead, it says it will keep the bridge in operation and in use with staff and volunteers helping boaters through. It also hopes to make repairs in the autumn.
Two people are needed to operate the bridge mechanism - which can include a boater - and also a member of Canal and River Trust staff, or a volunteer, for 12 hours during the day.
Sean McGinley, the Canal and River Trust's director for Yorkshire and North East, said: “We have listened to the concerns of residents and stakeholders and now fully understand the impact closure would have and so have developed alternative proposals.
“To keep access open both across the canal and along the canal, the trust will now be providing assistance for boaters at the bridge with staff and volunteers on hand until a temporary repair can be delivered, hopefully in the autumn."
Mr McGinley added: “As a charity, we rely on volunteers and donations to keep our 2,000 miles of canals open and accessible to all.
"To keep the bridge open, we need support from the community, so if anyone is interested in volunteering or making a donation, please visit our website."
The trust is also liaising with Craven District Council, local businesses and other stakeholders to find a longer term solution to the issue.
Craven district councillor Andy Solloway (Ind, Skipton South), welcomed the change of plan.
“I’m pleased Canal and River Trust has found a solution to keep the bridge open. This is a really important route for the town so it’s vital it is kept open to residents.
“I also hope people will support the trust and that volunteers will come forward to help the charity.”
Cllr Simon Myers (Con, Gargrave), Craven District Council’s lead member for Enterprising Craven, said: “This bridge is part of a vital pedestrian route through the town for residents and workers.
"I was extremely disappointed to learn of its proposed closure.
"The council has been in discussions with the Canal and River Trust ever since we became aware of their issue with the bridge and we are pleased that they have now drawn up alternative plans which will enable continued access through this entrance to Aireville Park.”
Anyone able to volunteer to keep the bridge open or to donate money to the Canal and River Trust should visit: canalrivertrust.org.uk/.