Aberdeenshire Council has come under fire from disability campaigners for revamping a historic bridge but leaving it impassable for wheelchairs.
The Cambus O’May suspension bridge in Deeside was reopened at the start of the month after it was almost destroyed by the floodwaters of Storm Frank in 2015.
During the intervening years, locals had written to the council asking that a turnstile onto the bridge not be included in the revamp project as it can make crossing impossible for those with mobility issues.
But now, those Deeside residents have been left disappointed that the B-listed structure has been resurrected with the gate back in place.
The local authority cited “legal, safety and heritage obligations” for the move, but opponents say it flies in the face of modern expectations around disabled access.
Problems posed for those with mobility issues
The feature prevents access for prams and wheelchair users, and poses difficulties for cyclists.
Dale Kitching, who lives nearby in Aboyne, said: “Quite a few of us raised this issue when the bridge was being renovated, when we realised the turnstile would be put back in place.
“I saw a family there the other day, where the mum had to sit at the side with baby in the pram, while the rest of the family walked out onto the bridge.
“There’s steps on the other end, but I used to work as a teacher at the special needs department at Aboyne Academy and our kids would have just loved to be pushed on to the bridge and have that experience of being above the water.”
Alasdair Johnston, who used to live near the bridge, said during his time as former member of the “Inclusive Cairngorms” advisory forum for the Cairngorm National Park Authority (CNPA), the issue of accessibility at Cambus O’May was frequently brought up as a problem.
He said: “Now that the bridge has been reinstated, I just can’t believe they’ve put the turnstile back.
“When I sat on the social inclusion board, this was constantly coming up as an issue of concern for people with disabilities.
“It makes bicycles difficult, but wheelchairs, forget it, it’s impossible.
“The Cairngorm National Park has a commitment to making the park, and its walkways, as accessible as possible.
“So the idea that you’ve got a bridge, that’s a footpath that connects one side of the River Dee to the other, that only able-bodied people can use is just crazy.
“It’s 2021. Awareness of disability is significantly higher than it was when this bridge was built.”
And Glyn Morris, chief executive of the Scotland-wide charity Friendly Access, added: “It seems a shame that the views of the community to include those with low mobility could not have been included within the planning stage of the rebuild.”
The repairs to the bridge were a “major undertaking” by the council and contractors, and the project received funding the Ballater Royal Deeside group, as well as a personal donation by Prince Charles in 2019.
Access issues caused by “obligations”
Donald MacPherson, structures manager at Aberdeenshire Council, said: “Unfortunately the turnstile on the original bridge was vandalised and thrown into the river sometime after the damage caused to the bridge by Storm Frank.
“When work began to restore the bridge to its former glory this included the reinstatement of the turnstile as required by legal, safety and heritage obligations”