A WELL used swing bridge over the Leeds and Liverpool Canal in Skipton is due to be unexpectedly closed this week because of ‘safety concerns’.

The Canal and River Trust says Gawflat Bridge, a popular crossing to Aireville Park from Skipton Railway Station and Broughton Road, was due to be replaced in the spring of next year.

But, a recently damaged bridge mechanism has meant it will have to close earlier than expected, and will not be replaced for several months, because of a lack of funds, says the trust.

The charity, which is due to put up explanatory signs, says the bridge will be closed in the ‘open’ position so boats will be able to continue using the canal, and so leisure operators will not suffer further disruption caused by the coronavirus lockdown, but all other traffic, pedestrians, runners and cyclists, school and college students, will have to use the bridge at Brewery Lane.

The alternative crossing, is about 250m closer to the town centre, is accessed next to Hall Croft and comes out next to the council offices at Belle Vue Square.

Vehicle access to the park, to Aireville Plant Nursery and Craven College, will be by Gargrave Road.

The trust’s Sean McGinley, director for Yorkshire and North East, said: “We apologise for the local disruption this will cause – and it is not a decision we have taken lightly.

“However, we need to ensure the safety of our staff, volunteers and boaters and we do not have the funding to carry out the repairs this summer. “

He added: “Locking the bridge in a ‘closed’ position would stop all boats from travelling along the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, and would be another blow for the leisure and hire boat companies who operate in the centre of Skipton after months of lockdown restrictions.

“Whilst we appreciate that there will be inconveniences, there are alternative routes that allow vehicles and pedestrians to cross the canal. There is no alternative route if we were to close the canal to boats, and it is important that the canal is open for both private boaters and especially boat hire companies now that restrictions are beginning to lift.”

The trust says it will cut back plant growth on the footpath behind Hall Croft, and will put up diversion signs.

The trust is coming to the end of a major £2 million project involving the resurfacing of 11 km of canal towpath between Gargrave and Kildwick.

Skipton councillor, Andy Solloway, who sits on the county, district and town councils, said he hoped the bridge could be reopened sooner than planned.

“This is going to be very disruptive, especially considering that the leisure centre cafe, play areas and other park facilities are opening up.

“I also can’t believe that the Canal and River Trust can’t find some external funding sources to do more immediate repairs to this bridge. The footpath behind Hall Croft is far from an ideal alternative, especially from an accessibility point of view.

“The trust have done some great work on the upgraded towpath, they mustn’t blow all that goodwill with a long closure of this vital access to Aireville Park. “