An Aberdeenshire bridge that has been shut to traffic for more than two and a half years must be reinstated as a priority by the local authority, a community group has argued.
Park Bridge, which links the communities of Durris and Drumoak and crosses the River Dee, was closed to all vehicles in February 2019, after a routine inspection found serious defects.
The historically A-listed structure dates back to 1854, and prior to its closure it was commonly used by residents on either side of the river to travel for shopping, visiting the post office and seeing friends.
But since it was shut, drivers have been faced with an eight-mile diversion.
‘No evidence to justify its closure’
The Park Bridge Action Group (PBAG), made up of concerned locals, has been campaigning for Aberdeenshire Council to reinstate the crossing, but despite a petition with more than 1,200 signatures, no progress has been made so far.
Yesterday representatives from the PBAG met with West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine MP Andrew Bowie, Aberdeenshire West MSP Alexander Burnett, and Stonehaven and Lower Deeside councillor Wendy Agnew on the bridge itself to discuss its future.
Anne Shearer from the action group explained the current situation to the three Tory politicians, and said she wants Aberdeenshire Council to ensure Park Bridge is high up on the local authority’s priority list for repairs under its recently agreed bridges policy.
She also highlighted the work of the PBAG in maintaining the bridge, and said the council has not been doing enough upkeep.
She said: “There has been no evidence provided to justify its closure.
“The bridge has been closed for two and a half years, and in that two and a half years the council hasn’t carried out any maintenance on the bridge at all, absolutely none.
“The Park Bridge Action Group on the other hand has been maintaining the bridge as much as it can, such as replacing the bank on the north side of the river which had suffered from scour and removing vegetation that was destroying the bank.
“We’ve opened up the drainage holes on the deck to allow water to get away.
“The local community are working on maintaining it the best we can, but there is work the council has to do that the community can’t do.”
She added: “It’s still a daily pain in the back side.
“We’re really hoping that now the council has approved its funding methodology for bridges, that Park Bridge is addressed sooner rather than later.
“To leave a Grade A-listed structure without maintaining it at all for years on end is just not acceptable.”
A community “split in half”
Mr Burnett said: “Residents have spoken clearly about their expectations for Park Bridge to be reinstated.
“One of the last things I did in the previous Scottish Parliament was raise the awful situation many communities like this find themselves in, split in half by crumbling infrastructure, potentially for years.
“Responsibility for bridges lies with the council, just as the responsibility to fund local authorities properly lies with the Scottish Government.
“So as parliament reconvenes, I will continue to make the case for Park Bridge and the communities that depend on it.
“This is not a wee pet project – it’s people’s lives and livelihoods that are suffering.”
Questions for Scottish Government
Mr Bowie added: “The closure of Park Bridge has been intolerable for the people of Durris and Drumoak, and has gone on far too long.
“And I have contacted a host of agencies and bodies about what can be done to restore this vital link.
“The simplest solution lies with Holyrood.
“The council need more money to get on top of the restoration and repair backlog, to restore all our communities who have been cut off.”
When it comes to the cash, a Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Aberdeenshire Council will receive a total funding package of £503.3 million to support local services, which includes an extra £19 million to support vital day to day services, equivalent to an increase of 4.1% compared to 2020-21.”
They added that it is the responsibility of individual councils to manage their own budgets and to allocate resources based on local needs and priorities, stating: “No community should be split in half due to inadequate infrastructure and we sympathise if livelihoods are suffering.”
What do the council say?
An Aberdeenshire Council spokesperson said: “The bridge remains open to pedestrian and cycle traffic allowing connection of the communities through Active Travel.
“Removing the impact of much heavier modern traffic protects this important structure from further deterioration.
“The erosion of the north bank was inspected following a spate in October 2020 but repairs were not needed with such urgency that they were required to be carried out during that stage of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
“An allocation of £30,000 for drainage improvements and other ongoing maintenance during the current financial year has been approved by Area Committee. These works will be carried out later this year.”