Walkers and cyclists were reassured today that York's Millennium Bridge is safe to use after cracks appeared on the pathway.

City of York Council said the network of jagged lines in the asphalt surface had been caused by someone apparently driving a Transit van over the new bridge on Sunday evening.

A spokesman said barriers had been strengthened to prevent this happening again, and added: "Engineers have thoroughly inspected the bridge, and there are no problems with it."

One York resident was so alarmed by the cracks - and a dip in the pathway surface - when he crossed the river with a party of friends yesterday that they refused to make the return crossing over the bridge.

Desmond Smith, of Albion Avenue, off Beckfield Lane, Acomb, said he was going for a walk to celebrate his 65th birthday when they spotted the cracks.

"I couldn't believe it," he said. "There was a great big split in the middle and water coming up out of the middle of it. It must have been a yard long. It could be a hazard."

He added that when one of the party pressed down on one side of the crack, the surface sank by about half an inch compared to the other side.

The cracks, a few millimetres wide, have appeared towards the Rowntree Park end of the bridge.

"It seems strange that the Bar Walls have lasted all this time and the new Millennium Bridge is falling apart already," commented Mr Smith, who has just retired from Wyevale Garden Centre.

The bridge was handed over to the council by the York Millennium Bridge Trust when it was officially opened a fortnight ago.

Trust secretary Paul Chesmore said today he had become aware of some cracks last week. He felt they were due to weather conditions when the asphalt was laid and could easily be sorted out.

He could not understand how anyone could have got a Transit van past the barriers and on to the bridge.

Updated: 11:45 Tuesday, April 24, 2001