Protestors say council errors mean Durham bridge earmarked for demolition is safe

Protestors have appealed to Durham County Council to change their mind about the Leazes Bridge demolition. <i>(Image: The Northern Echo)</i>
Protestors have appealed to Durham County Council to change their mind about the Leazes Bridge demolition. (Image: The Northern Echo)

Campaigners against the demolition of a footbridge claim the council has “made the wrong decision based on bad information” after a report they commissioned found that calculations were incorrect.

Concerns about the miscalculations, a site visit planned days after demolition work start date, and worries about pedestrian fatalities spurred activists to protest in Durham City yesterday (Tuesday, May 28).

About 20 Durham residents gathered underneath Leazes Bridge yesterday morning, to protest the planned demolition of the footbridge.

In spring, a report by a council surveyor found the bridge, which spans the busy A690 near the Gilesgate roundabout, to be unsafe, “beyond economical repair”, and recommended its immediate demolition.

Ever since Durham County Council announced the bridge would be demolished and replaced with pedestrian crossings and a cycleway, vocal residents have campaigned for the council to reconsider.

The Northern Echo: Protestors have appealed to Durham County Council to change their mind about the Leazes Bridge
The Northern Echo: Protestors have appealed to Durham County Council to change their mind about the Leazes Bridge

Now, campaigners have said the council “made the wrong decision based on bad information,” after a report they commissioned found that calculations done on its behalf were wrong.

But the council has responded, saying they “remain confident” in the initial assessment, carried out on behalf of the council.

Debbie Hills, who can see the bridge from her home, started a “Save Leazes Bridge” petition – which has garnered nearly 800 signatories. Together with Gilesgate resident Adrian Darnell, she commissioned a report from a structural engineer.

This report, looking into the council’s initial assessment, claims there were errors in calculations, where the council’s structural engineers used the wrong kind of steel to calculate the load-bearing capacity of the bridge, and “arbitrarily applied reduction factors”.

Debbie said: “The report that we’ve had back shows that there were gross errors in the council’s calculations. The bridge should be sound, or reparable.

“We know how dangerous the crossing is, and how much the bridge is used – the council should be preserving it.”

Adrian, a retired economics professor, said: “The information that the council has is flawed, because their structural report is fundamentally faulty, and my real concern is that they’ve come to the wrong decision based on bad information.

“There’s no need to knock down the bridge, and I think the council needs to find a way to move forward and change their decision, with their heads still held high.”

Paul Anderson, the strategic highways manager at Durham County Council, said: “We have seen the report commissioned by residents and have passed the findings onto the specialist engineers that carried out the original work on behalf of the council.

“We remain confident in their assessment, which was based on multiple surveys of the footbridge.”

Nine-year-old twins Lucy and Heather Cleeve said that their family has been “driving the car more and more” since the bridge was shut off.

Lucy added: “I’d like to walk to school, not take the car but we’re driving a lot now”.

The Northern Echo: Twins Lucy and Heather Cleeve would like to walk to school, but would have to cross the busy A690.
The Northern Echo: Twins Lucy and Heather Cleeve would like to walk to school, but would have to cross the busy A690.

Their mother, Sarah Cleeve said: “It’s impacted our daily lives – there have been times crossing this road where I haven’t been in control, where they’ve got a bit ahead, and that’s been dangerous.

“It’s an intimidating road, even driving on it. I’ve seen people run out in front of traffic, and that doesn’t make me want to bring my children out walking.

“I feel like, as a family, we’ve been invisible to the council – it feels like they haven’t noticed us and our worries. I don’t understand their decision.”

Also at the protest, Angela Darnell, a resident, believes a crossing would be vastly more unsafe than the current bridge, and has concerns about residents getting to and from Claypath Medical Practice, the GPs on Gilesgate roundabout.

She said: “Cars speed down this road, and with a road crossing there will be an accident. There's bound to be a fatality sooner or later.”

Victoria Ashfield and Carole Lattin, parish councillors for Gilesgate, raised concerns about the cost of demolition compared to repairs.

Cllr Ashfield said: “The council’s report did not give a precise amount of money for this [demolition] but people are quoting millions – and two different civil engineers have said that the bridge is reparable for about £1million.”

They added that a site visit, explaining the works to residents, was set to happen on Thursday – days after workers were scheduled to start digging.

Cllr Lattin said: “The bridge was originally built because students crossing the roundabout were at risk – if it's gone, sooner or later there is going to be a fatality.”

Anecdotally, the parish councillors say there has been “a knock-on effect” of the bridge closure on local businesses too – in particular, Carole says the businesses down Claypath are “suffering”, as footfall has reduced.

The Northern Echo: Protestors have appealed to Durham County Council to change their mind about the Leazes Bridge
The Northern Echo: Protestors have appealed to Durham County Council to change their mind about the Leazes Bridge

Paul Anderson, strategic highways manager at Durham County Council, said: “We have seen the report commissioned by residents and have passed the findings onto the specialist engineers that carried out the original work on behalf of the council.

“We remain confident in their assessment, which was based on multiple surveys of the footbridge.


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“While it would theoretically be possible to carry out repairs, the costs would be high and they would only provide a short-term solution, making the works economically unviable.

“Furthermore, the footbridge does not comply with modern standards for accessibility due to the stepped ramps.

“The introduction of a signalised crossing a short distance from Leazes Footbridge will provide a safe route across the A690 for everyone. Public safety has been our primary concern throughout this process, and we would like to thank people for their continued patience while work to install the new crossing is carried out.”