Leeds campaigners fear 'catastrophe' if faulty swing bridge near Rodley Nature Reserve keeps breaking

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Campaigners fear there will be a “catastrophe” if a malfunctioning bridge providing access to potential new homes in west Leeds is not fixed.

Developers want to build 67 properties on the former site of the Airedale Mills textile factory, close to Rodley Nature Reserve. A new swing bridge was installed last month to link the site to the other side of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, but cars and pedestrians have been left stranded for hours at a time as it failed to open properly several times.

The bridge is either up to allow boats and barges on the canal to pass, or down to allow pedestrians and traffic across. The applicants behind the potential development said a contractor was “working hard” to fix the problem, but residents and councillors say they are deeply worried about emergency services being unable to get across the bridge and unwell tenants being stranded.

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Speaking at a planning meeting when the issue was discussed, retired engineer and local man Keith Lambert, said the bridge was “completely inadequate”. He told councillors: “The bridge has been badly designed and manufactured. It’s got no chance of lasting 120 years as we’re told it’s got to do. If this bridge fails at any time in future – which it will and it has done numerous times already – and the emergency services can’t get there, then that will be a catastrophe.”

The swing bridge connecting the former Airedale Mills textile factory with Town Street in Bramley.The swing bridge connecting the former Airedale Mills textile factory with Town Street in Bramley.
The swing bridge connecting the former Airedale Mills textile factory with Town Street in Bramley.

Calverley and Farsley councillor Andrew Carter, whose ward borders the site, said residents had “quite rightly bombarded” elected members with complaints about the bridge. Urging a plans panel to reject the scheme in its current form, he said: “If someone falls ill on this site then they will literally be on an island. I wouldn’t like that risk on my shoulders. The council has a duty of care here.”

Outline planning permission to develop the site, which has been empty since the 1970s, was given by Leeds City Council in 2019. Under that agreement, contractors were supposed to replace the old swing bridge linking Moss Bridge Road with Town Street in Bramley, on the other side of the water. Although the job was supposed to be done last year, it was not until last month that the new bridge was installed.

Rodley Nature Reserve trustee Jerry Knapp said the gates flanking the bridge failed to open two weeks ago, leaving drivers stuck on both sides. He said visitors to the reserve had to be “evacuated” via a farmer’s field, because it was an over an hour before the problem was resolved. The meeting was told that field will be out of bounds, however, if the homes are built, leaving the bridge as the sole access point for the whole site.

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Speaking on behalf of developers Casa by Moda, planning agent Mark Lane said: “While the applicant is not responsible for the delivery of the bridge, we’re aware that the constractor is working very hard to resolve these issues.”

Consultant Alan Poyser, speaking on behalf of Dynamic Capital and Investments Ltd, which is responsible for the land at present, admitted he had held “heated conversations” with the contractor over the time it had taken to install the bridge. He insisted the problems would be resolved soon, telling councillors: “While not diminishing the concern, (the likelihood of failure in the future) is very small. The bridge will be annually inspected so wear and tear can be anticipated in advance.”

Objections to the development have come from trustees of the nature reserve, who are concerned about the impact of construction on wildlife. Councillors also expressed reservations about the layout and design of the proposed houses, as well as on the proposed levels of car parking linked to the development.

Mr Lane, for the developers, insisted the plans were “high quality” and provide much needed housing for the area. Although council officers recommended the finer details of the scheme be approved, councillors voted to defer making a decision so that further discussions could take place.

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