Earlier this week, Leeds City Council confirmed there will shortly be a feasibility study into re-routing the south Leeds canalside cycle path through Thwaite Mills museum. This would bypass the notorious barrier of Skelton Grange bridge, which significantly limits access along the route. As a resident of Woodlesford and member of Leeds Cycling Campaign, I found much to be encouraged by this news.
For the first time in the long-running saga of Skelton Grange bridge, there is now a firm proposal on the table. Many alternative options have been mooted – such as a new bridge, a long diversion or making adjustments to the existing bridge. But none of these could be implemented soon and guarantee full access. There is now a way forward, and one that already has some momentum behind it. This is most welcome – the big increase in usage of the path in the last 2 years means that a resolution has never been more urgent.
In the first instance, a fully-accessible path through Thwaite Mills would be best for existing users of the route (both on foot and wheel). Not only would it bypass both sides of Skelton Grange bridge, but also the awkward bridge on Thwaite Lane. It would also take the most efficient line, cutting around 100 metres off the current route. Plus it would create a pleasant public space, introducing the important heritage assets of Thwaite Mills to users of the path.
But perhaps just as important, there are significant opportunities for Thwaite Mills itself. Prior to COVID, access to the site was carefully controlled, with the museum’s income primarily coming from school groups, guided tours and booked events (such as weddings). But during COVID the museum has been closed, and considerable uncertainty remains regarding the return of groups and gatherings to venues like this. Meanwhile, as part of its efforts to address its £119m budget gap, the Council has recently consulted on reducing public opening hours at Thwaite Mills. Opening up access could provide new income streams from “passing trade”, such as a cafe and visitors to the museum itself.
In addition, security of the site could be improved. Having people regularly passing through would provide informal vigilance, and minimise any risks to these historic buildings. Clearly, the design of any route should take security and heritage issues (plus the moorings along the canalside) into account.
Thwaite Mills’ website describes it as being “set on an island of its very own, hidden away in the south of Leeds”. In fact, much of the riverside between Leeds and Woodlesford was “hidden away” until recently. But the extensive improvements to the cycle path – and the hugely increased usage of it during the 12 months of COVID – has quite literally opened up a side of Leeds previously unknown to many of its residents. It’s now a pleasant and popular route, taking in many points of interest such as Leeds Dock, Knostrop Weir, Skelton Lake and Woodlesford Lock. Providing access through Thwaite Mills would complete a long-running programme of bringing Leeds’ canalside into the public domain. Of benefit to public and museum alike.
To show your support for this proposal, sign the petition for a fully accessible path at Skelton Grange bridge, or flag up the issue on either the Commonplace or WYCA interactive maps (postcode LS10 1RP).