Objections to Skeeby Bridge work “unreasonable”, say councillors

Objections by national conservation bodies to a council’s scheme to safeguard the future of an ancient stone bridge have been dismissed as unreasonable.

North Yorkshire County Council’s planning committee heard while Skeeby Bridge between Richmond and Scotch Corner was listed as a nationally important structure the authority had been left with large bills after some of its bridges collapsed in recent years.

The meeting was told the grade II listed bridge had become an eyesore bridge due to the impact of traffic, weathering and previously poor techniques of repair.

The committee heard it had rusting farm gates tied to some of the arches with string to stop cattle passing underneath it and that parts of it had become overgrown with vegetation and that it was vital to keep the A-road which passed over the bridge open.

Councillor Robert Heseltine said : “It is rather a mess. It is not something that the county council can be proud of at all. I rather appreciate ancient structures. It is not of the greatest aesthetic value as one looks at it from upstream or downstream.

“It is an important local route and my advice would be to get on with the work.”

Nevertheless, the authority’s plans to dismantle and rebuild the bridge has split opinions among conservation experts.

The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) and The Council for British Archaeology (CBA) both objected to changes to the low-lying classical style bridge featuring a number of arches, saying the alterations could ruin the structure.

The CBA said the proposed repair works had the potential to cause unjustified harm to its significance and the outlined project posed “a significant risk to the character and loss of historic fabric”.

A SPAB spokesman added: “The extent of rebuilding proposed is significant, has not been fully justified, and does not include a methodology which outlines how the rebuilding will protect the layers of history and the specification of materials for any replacement stones or mortars.”

Members of the committee expressed frustration that the national amenity body objections meant even if they wanted to approve the scheme, the final decision would lay with the Secretary of State for Local Communities.

Cllr Heseltine said: “I don’t see any secretary of state in his wisdom with his officers down in Bristol are going to have any more democratic input that we would have in taking the final decision.”

After the committee was shown photographs of the state of repair of the bridge, Councillor David Blades said: “I cannot believe that we have got two objections to this.”

Cllr Blades told members the bridge appeared “quite precarious” and questioned whether the single lane stone bridge, part of which medieval, was in urgent need of repair.

Officers replied that the bridge had not been built to carry cars so it was “important to keep the structure up to date”.

Members voted to recommend to the minister that the scheme be approved.