A FOOTBRIDGE which has been closed to the public for health and safety reasons for FIVE YEARS should have remained open, angry councillors have claimed.

Riverside Bridge, which crosses the River Colne in Halstead town centre, was ruled off-limits by Essex Highways in 2014.

The move meant pedestrians have not been able to use the bridge, which connects Sainsbury’s car park with Bridge Street.

But a structural survey has now been carried out by the town council.

It claims the structure is “in a better state than was implied by Essex County Council when they closed the bridge”.

Town council chairman Andrew Munday: “It is a very comprehensive structural report and it does tell you what needs to be done, but it also reassures us that the bridge is not in a bad condition at all.

“For instance, the report says that the bridge could support at least a tonne of weight across it.

“That doesn’t feel like it’s structurally going to collapse anytime soon.”

Councillor Garry Warren said: “I think it’s an absolute tragedy that Essex County Council sent along an inspector who closed the bridge when it didn’t need to be closed.

“The fact that it has stood there for five years is mainly the reason that we can’t use it straight away.

“That is an absolute disgrace.”

The town council has been working towards getting the bridge reopened.

Councillors claim there has been a two-year delay in getting to the present stage because a report held by Essex County Council was not released until a freedom of information request was made.

Councillors now say there is “light at the end of the tunnel”.

A town council report says: “The major part of the work needed to bring the bridge back into use does not require expertise and can be done by volunteers.

“It is planned for this work to be carried out during March/April.”

Mr Munday said: “This Sunday we’re aiming to do the stage one clean-up of the top of the bridge with a voluntary working party.

“We’ll do what ever we can to make it look more aesthetically pleasing, although there is still the fundamental work as the structural part needs sorting out.

“I would just like to stress that this is more about making the bridge look nicer than it is actually about fixing it and opening it at this stage but it is progress.”

Essex Highways insist they were right to close the bridge.

A spokesman said: “Our structures inspector closed the bridge because it was no longer safe for the public to use.

“The iron handrail pillars were either completely dissolved or had rusted so far that they might no longer resist someone falling or even leaning on them.

“The bridge would need extensive work before it could safely be re-opened.

“This bridge does not fall under the remit of Essex Highways, however we have been forced to take action and been absolutely transparent with the owners and other authorities that closure is in the best interest of public safety.

“We would never allow members of the public to continue to use an unsafe footbridge.”