Swillington Bridge


Carries the A642 over the River Aire

Grid Ref SE 243 455                                    Date of Closure November 2000

                                                                    Date of Strengthening 2001

Swillington Bridge is the only bridge that I closed during my time as Chief Bridge Engineer at Leeds City Council.

In November 2000 prolonged heavy rain caused the level of the River Aire to rise to unusually high levels through the centre of the City of Leeds. The bridge at Swillington was particularly vulnerable to flood damage since mining subsidence had left the foundations exposed to undercutting by the river bed. We already knew of voids behind the masonry facework which added to the possibility of major damage during a flood event. In order to ensure the safety of the traveling public, the only course of action open to me was to impose an emergency closure of the bridge until the foundations could be examined and proved sound or in need of repairs.

After the initial closure during the heavy rain and local flooding, pressure steadily increased from politicians and senior members of the highways department to re-open the bridge. In due course, after trial borings from the road surface and drilling through the masonry had shown that grouting was required we arranged for grout to be injected under pressure form the road, whilst the A642 remained closed. Local people seemed to enjoy the relative peace and quiet along the closed section of the highway.

The bridge is a Listed Building. Any repairs to the rendered parapets requires Listed Building Consent. However the red sandstone used in the parapet walls is extremely soft and cannot withstand the effect of de-icing salts from the carriageway. The service pipes have been attached to the outside of the bridge because there is too little cover between the crown of the masonry arches and the road surfacing. Here is a classic conflict between preserving the heritage from the past and ensuring a adequate infrastructure for 21st century highway requirements.

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Location Plan                Swillington Bridge

Swillington  Bridge West Elevation

27 Feb 2008

Narrow carriageways cross the bridge with narrow marginal strips protecting the parapets.

Service pipes occupy the space between the masonry bridge and the steel footbridge alongside