PLANNERS have backed a £4.8 million project to create a new foot and cycle bridge over the River Ouse in York.

Members of City of York Council’s area planning committee unanimously approved the project to upgrade an existing bridge which runs alongside the railway crossing, Scarborough Bridge.

Yesterday’s decision came in spite of some concerns being raised about the impact on the heritage of the bridge, which dates back to 1845, when it was designed in the office of railway pioneer Robert Stephenson, and on nearby trees.

Under the project, the pedestrian and cycle bridge will be widened from its current 1.3 metres to four metres and ramps will be added to make the bridge easier for cyclists and accessible for people using buggies or wheelchairs.

Officers had described the scheme as a “once in a generation opportunity” to vastly improve a key crossing and claimed any harm would be outweighed by the benefits the improved bridge would bring, while old stonework will be reused in the alterations.

They said:“ It is demonstrated that the works to improve the crossing over the bridge, for pedestrians, cyclists and disabled users will be of a substantial benefit to the public and achieve wider council aims, in terms of facilitating greater accessibility for and to sustainable transport modes. It is therefore considered that in the planning balance the public benefits outweigh the less than substantial harm.”

Councillors including Ian Gillies and Hilary Shepherd concurred yesterday with officers and praised them for the work done on the project, while Cllr Denise Craghill said the upgrade would be a big improvement for cyclists and pedestrians, including those with disabilities.

She said the loss of the trees was outweighed on balance by the benefits, and there would be re-planting where possible.

Campaigner Paul Hepworth, of Cycling UK, later welcomed the decision, saying: “It’s great news for cycling in York, plus mobility restricted and pushchair users.”

A report to the planning meeting had said that despite its existing steeply stepped access and narrow bridge deck, the bridge was very widely used by both cyclists and pedestrians.

It said surveys had shown that on average more than 2,600 pedestrians and 600 cyclists used the footbridge daily, despite restricted access, but it was ‘entirely inadequate’ for such usage.’