It’s six weeks since Tadcaster Bridge crumbled into the Wharfe. Now, at last, a lifeline will soon reunite the town. MATT CLARK reports.
FUNNY how we take things for granted. When Terry Parsons walked to the doctors’ surgery across Tadcaster bridge it took him 10 minutes, five on a good day. But since the structure collapsed at the end of December, he's had to make a half hour detour by car.
The Environment Secretary insisted repairing the bridge was a 'national priority.' It wasn't of course. Tadcaster is a town few ministers have heard of and those reassuring words soon evaporated along with the flood water.
Then there was that almighty row over siting a temporary pontoon on brewer Sam Smith's land. A spokesman for the company called it a waste of taxpayers money and accused both local and central government of PR sound bites.
No one, it seemed, stopped to make residents best interests the main priority.
The town's banks and schools are on the west bank and that has caused serious disruption for those who live on the east side. Terry says it’s a case of swings and roundabouts here. There are no winners, everyone is in the same position.
And all people like Terry ask for is their divided town to be reunited. A short walk, once again, not a long drive.
Terry Parsons by Tadcaster's new foot bridge. Soon he will again have a five minute walk to the doctors' surgery, rather than a half hour detour by car. Picture: Matt Clark.
Finally they’re about to have their wish. A temporary bridge will open next week from the car park on one side to council and football club land on the other. Although it will be many months before the 18th century bridge is reconstructed, Terry feels that’s a good start.
“It’s the lifeline of the place isn’t it,” he says. “I can’t get over the bridge to the supermarket and if you’re going to go right round, you may as well go to York.”
Tadcaster's new footbridge construction site in the town's car park. Picture: Matt Clark.
That said, Terry reckons the bridge has been the town’s main talking point and, rather ironically, the lack of access between its halves has, if anything, pulled people closer together.
Butcher Nick Devine agrees.
“I think it’s galvanised the whole town,” he says. “Part of me wants to say it’s surprising, another part says its not, but really it always surprises me that so many people will make the extra effort.”
Nick Devine of Devine Meats. Picture: Matt Clark.
Devine Meats was flooded just like many businesses in this part of Bridge Street. But Nick says with the building being tiled on both the walls and floor, cleaning up was a bit easier than for most.
“And a lot of hard work to be fair,” he says. “On the day it happened loads of people helped, and not just local people. One lad had no legs and he was moving sandbags, another lad from RAF Leeming just turned up. He’d left his family saying he just had to come and help.
“I can’t thank them enough.”
Having such a loyal customer base has undoubtedly been a bonus for Nick. Some even turned up to help mop out. Now they find new ways in, whether trekking over the viaduct, or driving round the A64.
“If we’re missing anything, it’s the passing trade,” says Nick. “We’ve been open again for four weeks and have been really well supported. It’s quite humbling actually.”
Constructors have also been hard at work erecting the new walkway across the river. They’ve been at it day and night and if it hadn’t been for this week’s high winds, the job would be finished by now.
Others are building a pontoon to support heavy machines that will be used to rebuild the wrecked road bridge.
Constructing the pontoon this week in Tadcaster. Picture: Matt Clark.
For now, hi-vis jackets are the order of the day in this part of Tadcaster.
Other than that it’s business as usual. Defiant businesses closed against their will have cheery ‘we’ll be open soon’ signs and those away from the river are unaffected.
But smoke from the brewery lingering across the still sodden and blustery town adds a melancholic air. Sandbags continue to keep watch over many doorways and low arched cellar windows. Still the rain falls. Forlorn and incongruous Christmas lights adorn the bridge, no one dares venture in to take them down. Indeed it’s all boarded up now. Locals call it the Berlin Wall.
Amazingly, and despite the bridge being out of action for weeks, a Tesco delivery van pulls up at the road closed sign. That’s sat navs for you.
The driver looks puzzled. Melvyn Pratt smiles. It happens all the time.
Melvyn, who owns Calcaria Carpets on the east bank, saw the bridge collapse. He says it was a bit like a dream in slow motion. One of his carpet fitters took a video. Not the one you all saw on TV, mind, he’s still ruing that missed opportunity.
“We were told things were plopping in the river,” says Melvyn. “So we went to the riverbank with a torch and saw bricks dropping from the arch. Then a bit just folded out into the water and a column started to sort of melt.
"Everyone gasped. No one could believe what they were seeing.”
Tadcaster Mayor, Councillor Don MacKay, says the access nightmare should be over soon with the foot bridge due to open on Tuesday or Wednesday next week, weather permitting.
It will be 67 metres long by two metres and lit at night. For the 6,000 residents of this town, the bridge can’t come a moment too soon.
“I think it’s even going to become a tourist attraction,” says Melvyn. “Some have already come to see what’s happened from down south.”
But for people like Terry Parsons, it mean taking things for granted once more. Like walking to the doctors’ surgery in five minutes, rather than having to drive for half an hour in his car.
- Since this article went live we have been contacted by staff at Tadcaster East Community Primary School who have pointed out that not all the town's schools are on the west side. We apologise for our mistake and hope this correction will prove satisfactory.