Two communities from either side of the Ouse were united today with the opening of York's Millennium Bridge.

Residents from the Fulford Road and Fishergate area met up on the crossing with their counterparts from the South Bank and Bishopthorpe Road district.

And children from Fishergate Primary School and Knavesmire Primary School waved flags and exchanged big greetings cards to celebrate a new and growing link between the schools.

Fishergate deputy head teacher Kate Elliot said children from Knavesmire had visited Fishergate last year as part of a communications project, coming round the long way via Skeldergate Bridge.

Now Fishergate pupils would pay a return visit to the South Bank school this summer using the new bridge.

"It has opened up new opportunities," she said. "It's going to open up new links."

Jill Mayfields, deputy head teacher at Knavesmire, also welcomed the new links, and said children had enjoyed today's celebrations.

Mothers who came with their children to today's ceremony welcomed the chance to go on circular walks and bike rides along the riverside, and to get quickly to Rowntree Park.

"It will be very handy for people to get across to the park," said Sheila Steele, of Navigation Road, off Walmgate, who was attending today's ceremony with her seven-year-old daughter, Sophie Stockton.

The crossing means commuters and students can get to their workplace, colleges and schools more easily. People living on the Fulford Road side will enjoy a quick crossing to York College, the Racecourse and Terry's Suchard. Residents from the other side can get quickly to the university, Inphal barracks, the police station and various factory units in the Hospital Fields Road area.

"It opens up a whole new range of car-free travel options for commuters, students, pupils, shoppers and leisure seekers," said Paul Hepworth, of the North Yorkshire branch of cycling organisation, the CTC. Cyclists on the national cycling network operated by Sustrans can also use the bridge. "Although the connecting Sustrans paths are temporarily closed, due to foot and mouth restrictions, they will ultimately act in association with the new bridge to encourage more touring cyclists to stop and spend in York." He claimed a new linking route from Holgate and Acomb,via Knavesmire, was also attracting more support than opposition.

Updated: 15:40 Tuesday, April 10, 2001