Broad shoulders needed as Tadcaster bridge saga unfolded

PIC: James Hardisty
PIC: James Hardisty
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There were times over the last 12 months when many wondered whether they would ever see traffic crossing the river in Tadcaster.

The 300-year-old bridge fell victim to the Boxing Day floods of 2015 and when the ancient stone, overwhelmed by water, finally crumbled it left a town divided.

One of those watching on when disaster struck was John Smith, North Yorkshire County Council’s bridges manager. It was his decision to close the Grade II listed bridge two days before it tumbled into the River Wharfe and he knew that when the historic structure finally gave way it wouldn’t just mean the loss of an historic landmark.

“People don’t think about the impact of a bridge on the highways network until it can’t be used anymore,” he says. “Then there’s hell to pay and you need broad shoulders to bear the brunt of people’s frustration. Every time you close a bridge you upset somebody. There have been a few impatient onlookers wanting to know why it has taken the county council so long to complete the work when the Japanese can repair a giant sink hole in Tokyo in seven days. I have a thick skin. If you try to do the repairs quickly things can go wrong. You just have to keep calm and do what’s right.”

The situation in Tadcaster was further compounded by the fact that Samuel Smith’s Brewery, which dominates the town, initially refused to give the go-ahead for a temporary bridge which needed to be anchored on its land. With the supermarket and medical centre on one side and everything else on the other, it meant residents were left navigating a 12-mile round trip to do jobs which had previously taken a few minutes.

The impasse with Samuel Smith’s was eventually resolved, but it was only ever a temporary solution while Mr Smith and his team worked out the best way of giving Tadcaster a bridge which had a better chance of withstanding further freak weather conditions.

After numerous false starts, the bridge finally reopened earlier this month, leaving Mr Smith to reflect on a job well done.

“As well as choosing the stone and designing the widened bridge, I’ve also really enjoyed the research and looking into the work my predecessors did.”