More than 1,200 people have signed a petition to reopen an Aberdeenshire bridge – but not everyone in the community wants heavy traffic to return to the area.
Park Bridge which crosses the River Dee and links the communities of Drumoak and Durris has been closed to all vehicles since February 2019 after a routine inspection found serious defects.
Drivers have been faced with an eight-mile diversion ever since and the situation has become increasingly tense in recent weeks, being labelled “intolerable” by MP Andrew Bowie.
But not everyone wants the bridge to reopen to cars, and there is an alternative view that the bridge may benefit the community more by being shut.
The bridge was not fit for purpose
“I used to use the bridge all the time and, like everyone, was very disappointed when it was closed down,” said Drumoak resident Carean Clarke, 61.
“But I’ve adapted over time without it and now I can’t think of a single real reason to see it reopened to cars.”
She explains that the narrow bridge and the roads on either side of it were not built for the volume of traffic which used it.
“It had turned into a rat run,” she said. “No one adhered to the speed limit plus there is an almost blind bend which caused a lot of accidents and near misses.”
The Aberdeen bypass opened the same month that Park Bridge shut, and Carean says it is a much safer, and in some cases quicker, route: “Yes it adds on a couple of miles, but it’s hardly an onerous journey.”
A new sense of community
Without hundreds of cars whizzing over it, the newly silent bridge became an unexpected community focal point.
Carean and her husband began walking their four dogs over it nearly every day, using the route to get to Glebe Park and down to the river.
“We would never have dreamed of walking there before it was closed,” she said.
“And during lockdown more and more people discovered it. Now lots of families, dog walkers, cyclists and horse riders all use the bridge and it’s got a really nice community feel.”
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 – which closed in December – and seeing friends.
More connected than ever
Meanwhile, the Park Bridge Action Group (PBAG), made up of concerned locals, has been campaigning for Aberdeenshire Council to reinstate the crossing.
Despite a petition with more than 1,200 signatures, no progress has been made so far and Aberdeenshire West MSP Alexander Burnett has spoken of the “awful situation many communities like this find themselves in, split in half by crumbling infrastructure.”
Carean says that she and many other residents understand where this train of thought is coming from, but questions if the two communities really are so separated.
“Both sides of the bridge have more than adequate roads,” she said. “If we didn’t have the bypass it would be a lot more inconvenient.
“Now we are also walking over and lots of cyclists and families are using the bridge…perhaps we are even more connected than before.”
According to Carean, Aberdeenshire council has an obligation to repair the bridge regardless of who is using it, and she supports the campaign to get the defects fixed.
“But to say the situation is ‘intolerable’ is blooming ridiculous. There are many people in this community who value the quiet, open space and want the bridge to remain closed to cars.”