Suspension bridge to be closed on Friday as Ilkley braces for riverside invasion

West Yorkshire Police will patrol Ilkley's riverside beaches on Friday as a heatwave is expected to tempt large crowds to the banks of the Wharfe.

Revellers on the Wharfe at Burley in June

Is it hoped that closing the bridge will deter groups of teenage 'tombstoners' from using it to jump into the water.

The cool, wet July has been a respite for residents of Ilkley and nearby Burley-in-Wharfedale, who have had to deal with a significant amount of anti-social behaviour at the pebble beaches during hot weather so far this summer.

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Crowds moved downstream to Burley after a dispersal order was slapped on Ilkley on June 24

The issues - believed to have been exacerbated by travel bans and the closure of leisure attractions during lockdown - include drinking, partying, fighting, brazen drug dealing, nitrous oxide use, barbecuing, excessive littering and illegal parking.

A dispersal order even had to be enforced on the Wharfe at Ilkley in June, when crowds were moved on after a group began brawling. Many of the revellers moved downstream to Burley instead. Some of the youths had travelled by train from as far afield as Manchester, with residents spotting groups arriving 'laden with booze' at the railway station.

Although police resources have been deployed to Ilkley to manage the behaviour, residents and local councillors have demanded a stringent action plan be drawn up ahead of periods of hot weather so that a response can be planned in advance.

The closure notice for the suspension bridge has been implemented by both West Yorkshire Police and Bradford Council and will be in place throughout July 31.

There have been acute issues with overcrowding and illegal parking in Ilkley this summer

A spokesperson said: "The bridge will be gated and staffed and not in use or accessible for the duration of the day. Unfortunately the volume and behaviour of visitors to the riverside, particularly at and around the bridge has been a cause of major concern and complaint during recent spells of good weather and the decision to close it has been made on that basis.

"Work is ongoing to determine a more sustainable and long-term solution but the forecast of a particularly hot day on Friday requires action to avoid a repeat of problems at the site. We wish to thank all local residents for their patience and understanding whilst the closure is in place."

A trying summer for Ilkley

The pebble beaches and East Holmes Field were described as a 'disaster zone' by local resident Andrew Dobson, who filmed a live video of the crowds on the recreation ground after they had been moved on from the riverside on June 24 - a boiling-hot day when tempers frayed.

The order gave police legal powers to clear the pebble beaches

Mr Dobson discovered barbecues, abandoned towels, beer bottles and thousands of nitrous oxide canisters when walking around the area later in the evening - and even saw people asking police on duty if they could light barbecues.

He saw nine police vehicles around the river while he was attending a boot camp at Ilkley Rugby Club.

"There's rubbish everywhere - I can see tents, barbecues under the trees, I've never seen anything like it. It's disgraceful. The pebble beach has been cleared."

Other Ilkley residents responded to recount instances of yobbish behaviour they had witnessed, including:-

- A woman who saw teenagers 'laden with booze' arriving by train at Ilkley Station

- One witness who saw a drug deal taking place next to an ice cream van

- A man who encountered a youth from Manchester who was running away from the police wearing only swimming shorts

- Parents picking children up from Ghyll Royd School in Burley-in-Wharfedale who were forced to wait in traffic while visitors blocked a roundabout to unload inflatables and crates of beer from their cars

- Around 1,000 people gathered at the river in Burley and 100 cars were left 'abandoned' on Leather Bank

- Human excrement was left on paths

- Residents were told by police officers that groups had travelled 'long distances' to get to Ilkley

Burley resident Rob Collins said at the time: "There have been groups of teens and young adults descending on the area with comments from people that public transport has been packed and people not wearing masks either.

"There were reported issues a number of weeks ago in the press over the state of the area and these last few weeks there have been meetings with local councillors and police over action plans and they were supposedly ready to be put in place.

"Sadly today (June 24) has proven that the measures in place fell flat. There have been kids diving off bridges and a mass brawl that the police have broken up at 4pm which has resulted in the dispersal order.

"I am a resident of Burley and live down by the river bordering Leather Bank. After speaking with the police today and raising concerns about a mass of cars abandoned outside of Ghyll Royd School and my wife being threatened whilst trying to get into school the police stated 'what do you want us to do'?

"There are over 100 cars abandoned on the road by Ghyll Royd School and 1,000 people by the riverside. The police advised they cannot send someone to wait next to the cars, only when someone reports it when it’s likely to be too late. The police are aware of people travelling sizeable distances to come here.

"In the evening the riverside is still packed as I have walked down to look. There is rubbish everywhere and human excrement on the paths as people have nowhere to go to the toilet. We are expecting chaos tomorrow in Burley due to the Ilkley dispersal order and the school have asked the police for help."

What is the action plan for Ilkley?

The Friends of Ilkley Riverside Parks met with Bradford Council and Ilkley Town Council on June 8 for a summit to discuss a crackdown, and the police have also been in dialogue with both councils.

A local businessman even described the riverside area as 'a no-go zone' during warm weather and claimed its reputation is deterring families from moving to the town.

The solutions implemented following the meeting were that police and park wardens would patrol the river and neighbouring East Holmes Field to enforce by-laws which ban the use of disposable barbecues and to tackle public drinking and drug use. Youth workers will also engage with teenagers seen causing trouble.

There will also be daily bin collections on busy days, and larger bins have been introduced to cope with increased demand. Bradford Council will provide gloves, bags and safety equipment for local volunteers who undertake litter picks.

Videos of cars parked inconsiderately and illegally on streets near the Wharfe were widely shared on social media on the May Bank Holiday weekend, and the police will now work with Bradford Council to introduce new traffic measures.

Additional parking restrictions have been put in place on Denton Road and there will be a consultation on long-term changes to regulations affecting parking near the Swing Bridge.

Friends of Ilkley Riverside Parks chair Ed Duguid believes the problems have been steadily worsening in recent years - and that they were exacerbated by 'lockdown fever' in May.

"There have been increasing numbers of people coming to the river for several years now. It can be overwhelming and an unpleasant experience. We see this behaviour from a broad range of ages - mostly mid-teens to early 20s, but also from some families who just seem to let their kids wander off. Last year we did a survey and found that about 80 per cent of visitors were coming from outside of Ilkley.

"The parking measures on Denton Road had a knock-on effect elsewhere, which was frustrating for residents, and there needs to be consultation.

"They do intend to extend the double yellow lines, as the illegal parking is very dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists."

Mr Duguid also points out that the river beaches and East Holmes Field are covered by by-laws applicable to all of Bradford Council's public parks. Barbecues and fires are banned from these areas, and on nearby Ilkley Moor there is a Public Spaces Protection Order which prohibits their use.

"People bring disposable barbecues and then leave them there, or put hot embers in bins. They leave their detritus lying around and just aren't very responsible. The barbecues burn the grass and they are a fire risk.

"We have issues with anti-social behaviour which is generated by drinking and drug use. People then lose their sense of proportion and there is no social distancing. The beaches were rammed, kids were queuing up to jump off the bridge and blocking it. They are either silly or aggressive when challenged."

Coun Anne Hawkesworth, who represents Ilkley on Bradford Council, praised the response of police officers on the ground, but believes more robust action is needed and better pre-planning when hot weather is forecast.

"These issues during hot weather are not new. Last autumn there was a meeting between the police and the councils, and it was agreed by everyone that there was a fundamental need for a proper plan rather than 'hit and run' reactions.

"In the spring, we councillors wrote a formal letter to Bradford Council with our ideas and the options. We wanted some preparation and more funding. Parking is part of the issue - people will abandon cars in the middle of the road - and we want more fines and enforcement. We asked for CCTV, especially after the fire at Olicanian Cricket Club, and we want targeted action, for people to just look at the weather forecast and decide on a plan.

"We asked for Public Space Protection Orders to be applied to either side of the suspension bridge to stop people jumping off, but we heard nothing about that, the parking measures or extra policing. We've never seen the police plan and there's been no move forward with the CCTV.

"I want to stress that the officers on the ground did an admirable job, but we need the force to realise that Ilkley has problems and needs money to sort it out. There is no point in us saying that it is a wonderful place to visit if that isn't backed up.

"We would like to have a police target unit, like they have in York, or maybe just one field where parking is allowed, like at Bolton Abbey. This just cannot continue."