Malfunctioning Whitby Swing Bridge was designed for ‘horse and cart age’ and must be prioritised, councillors say

Councillors have expressed concern that Highways chiefs are not giving 112-year-old Whitby Swing Bridge the attention it needs following a series of failures.

By Caroline Howley
Wednesday, 27th October 2021, 10:33 am
Updated Wednesday, 27th October 2021, 10:34 am
Whitby Swing Bridge has experienced a number of issues in recent years
Whitby Swing Bridge has experienced a number of issues in recent years

The bridge, which many pedestrians rely on, has repeatedly become stuck open in recent months.

In July, the bridge failed in the open position due to ‘technical issues’, with the solution reported to be to ‘grease it more often’.

It was closed to traffic on the evening of October 18 to allow engineers to investigate the cause of the recent issues, and several 'swing' tests were carried out.

The bridge is crossed many thousands of times a year.

Yet Whitby Town Council has stated that it has had no reassurance from North Yorkshire County Council that issues with the bridge will be prioritised.

At a council meeting on October 19, county councillor David Chance said that Highways officers cited ‘operator error’ as the cause of the bridge’s malfunctioning over the summer and early autumn months.

However, Whitby town mayor Councillor Linda Wild, said the county council had provided “no evidence” to back up this claim.

“It is disingenuous of them to try to shift blame on to the dedicated local bridge staff and away from their own maintenance contractors and lack of investment,” she said.

“The people who live in this town rely on the bridge. Annually, it’s crossed thousands of times.

“When it breaks down, there is no practical alternative for pedestrians. We need a reliable, working bridge.”

Whitby Swing Bridge, which opened in 1909, was designed in the age of horses and carts and much of its technology and components date back 112 years.

This is not the first time the old bridge has felt the strain of modern life.

In July 2010 the mechanism became stuck in an open position for more than a week after a gearbox failure.

The county council spent £25,000 flying in parts from Italy to repair the fault, and the following year imposed the current 7.5t weight limit.

In 2013, a £250,000 investment saw the installation of new navigation lights, a fresh paint job, and also improved the bridge's computerised technology to ‘prevent failures and speed up repairs’.

Following a subsequent prolonged breakdown in 2014, a county council spokesman said: "Breakdown of the bridge mechanism is now much less likely, but Whitby swing bridge is a mechanical bridge over 100 years old and so from time to time there will still be problems."