Beauty spot faces race against time

By Sam Beattie

THE race is on to repair Scotton Weir before it collapses. There’s only one problem – nobody knows who it belongs to.

Spanning the River Nidd between Harrogate and Knaresborough, the construction beside the former mill is on its last legs according to a local conservationist.

Keith Wilkinson of Bilton Conservation Group says if it falls, the environmental impact will be “catastrophic” and low-level flooding downstream is possible.

So, for the last few months, the hunt has been on for the weir’s owner.

But as the former flax mill ceased to be in 1851, details of who holds the contract appear to have been lost in the realms of time.

“The weir was put in to provide a water supply for the mill,” said Colin Porritt of the Environment Agency.

“The maintenance of the weir would belong to the weir owner and that would be the mill. But exactly who that is probably lost in the bowels of history.”

He added that the mill and weir were probably sold with the surrounding estate many years ago and said: “It could collapse tomorrow or it could last years.”

Although time has taken its toll on the antiquated gorge landmark, the brunt of the damage has been done by trees floating downstream, becoming lodged on the weir and raking at the stonework.

The Environment Agency has inspected Scotton Weir, which is actually in Bilton, but because it is not part of a flood defence system, the organisation is not responsible for its repair.

Surveyors form the agency say the structure, which is made of a combination of brick and stone, will be difficult and costly to repair.

It said that the risk of serious flooding in Knaresborough is non-existent and a managed removal of the weir could actually alter the river’s flow for the better.

The Woodland Trust, which looks after the majority of the land around the Nidd Gorge, has no responsibility for the weir either.

Nor does Harrogate Borough Council which drew a blank when it tried to trace the owners after the issue was raised at a Knaresborough Town Council meeting.

And the private owners of the river banks can not lay claim to it, said Mr Wilkinson, who spotted that the weir was crumbling last year.

“This is a little weir in the middle of nowhere which clearly no-one much concerns themselves with but if it went in a rush, there’d be a lot of water down the Knaresborough stretch,” he explained.

“We have had an awful lot of rain lately. If it went as a complete collapse rather than an engineered collapse it would be catastrophic for the ecology of the river in my view.

“I’m concerned first and foremost with the safety and then the ecological impact would be dramatic. If it went, all the silt would come down with it and could change things dramatically. Who’s going to do anything about this?”