Too many openings? “It’s swing bridges and roundabouts”

WITH the busy summer season in full swing, the debate has again arisen about the frequency of openings of Whitby’s bridge.

At a recent Harbour board meeting a member of the public, who spoke on behalf of traders, asked if it was possible to reduce the number of openings as the bridge had recently swung into action five times in a single hour.

On one occasion last week an ambulance responding to an emergency was also forced to wait while the bridge was in the open position.

Acting harbour master Ian Vasey said that when addressing the issue of bridge openings, there are many points of view that must be considered.

He said: “A lot of the tourists and visitors look forward to the bridge opening and actually come to the town to see it, it’s a spectacle.

“It’s balancing this and the needs of residents and in the end it’s a commercial harbour and tourism needs are secondary.

“For every argument to say we open it too much, the sailors and fishermen say we don’t open it enough.”

Neil Williamson, commodore of Whitby Yacht Club, confirmed this sentiment when he said: “The problem we have got is if the bridge is closed we are stuck at one side or the other.

“It’s never open enough, you have no idea how long we spend waiting for the bridge to open.”

Boat owners can request openings of the bridge at half hour intervals at a cost of £60 per opening, although the bridge may also be opened for operational purposes such as to let the dredging craft or pilot vessel through.

“It’s a tricky one”, said Simon Thomas, of the Dolphin Hotel, “They’ve got signs up saying it’s going to be open every half hour, whether that’s strictly adhered to I don’t know, but it does appear to open quite a lot.

“The bridge is making some funny noises when it’s open and I don’t have a lot of confidence in it’s longevity.

“It’s lasted over a hundred years now, what’s going to happen over the next 20-30 years?

“It can’t last forever.”

When the bridge opens pedestrians on the east side find themselves waiting outside the Dolphin, so in that respect it can be good Mr Thomas’ business, but if the bridge broke down for a sustained period of time, like it did in July 2010, it could have a disastrous effect on businesses in the area.

He added: “It can work to our advantage, people can dash inside and have a quick drink, but at other times people are backed right up to Sandgate and in that respect it isn’t that good, so it’s swing bridges and roundabouts.

“It’s an attraction but it’s got to be functional.”

A report published last year following the July breakdown stated that the failures of the bridge were not due to traffic passing over it, but the problem was instead attributed to a manufacturing fault with a drive shaft, which would therefore have extra strain put on it with frequent bridge openings.