Watch: Former Wales rugby internationals urge Welsh Water bosses to reopen bridge
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
Former Wales internationals Robert Jones and Arwel Thomas are backing a campaign to reinstate a pedestrian bridge to rugby pitches in Clydach.
They feature in a video which has been sent to Welsh Water – the owner of Vardre bridge – urging bosses to reopen it.
In 2019 Welsh Water deemed the bridge unsafe and closed it, although it continues to carry a sewer across the River Tawe.
The closure has meant a detour for players and supporters of Vardre RFC, whose two pitches are the other side of the river from its clubhouse.
And that, according Clydach resident Matthew Bailey, who has written to Welsh Water, has led to a significant drop in the number of elderly and disabled match day spectators.
In the video, ex-Wales and Lions scrum-half Mr Jones, who is from nearby Trebanos, urged Welsh Water “to dig deep” and reinvest in the bridge so that players and supporters of all ages and mobility could “carry on watching the game that we all love”.
Former fly-half Mr Thomas, also of Trebanos, said he had used the bridge and pitches a number of times, more recently with his son for football training.
Its absence, he said, was a great shame for the community.
He added: “It would be great to have that bridge put back to some sort of fit state.”
A Vardre RFC supporter, Dave Feathers, also took part in the video to represent the older people of Clydach.
“Some are very fit but there are others like me who unfortunately are now disabled, and we are being restricted watching the team that I have followed for most of my life,” he said.
Matthew Bailey, said Vardre bridge had served the Swansea Valley town for more than a century, providing a short cut home for miners at times.
His email to Welsh Water said the effect of its closure three years ago was an instant and significant decrease in the attendance of elderly and disabled Vardre RFC supporters.
He also said some young people climbed over the gates at either end of the bridge, despite “keep out” signs.
Mr Bailey said Vardre RFC used to clear debris which got caught up in the bridge after heavy rainfall.
“Now the bridge is closed, debris is fast building up, and almost forming a dam,” he said.
Mr Bailey, who is chairman of Clydach Community Council, has asked Welsh Water how much it would cost to make the bridge structurally safe for pedestrians.
He also wanted to know if the community could carry out its own structural survey and obtain a quote for repair.
Vardre RFC has two men’s teams, a youth team and several mini-rugby sides.
Club secretary Malcolm Thomas said he couldn’t quantify the effect of the detour on the club’s finances, but said some supporters ended up driving down to Ynystawe, then across a small bridge and back up to the pitches.
He added that the walking detour was difficult for people with disabilities because the final stretch to the pitches was a made-up pathway.
“There is an element of revenue reduction because of the lack of access,” said Mr Thomas.
Welsh Water said it would meet Vardre RFC officials next week to discuss the matter.
A Welsh Water spokesman said the bridge had been closed because of corrosion and wasn’t safe for pedestrians.
“The bridge continues to be suitable for its principal purpose of carrying our sewer across the River Tawe, whilst we consider how we will invest in the sewer network in Clydach,” he said.
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They should approach Natural Resources Wales to co-operate with Welsh Water if the bridge is unsafe and threatening the river environment. More than one way to skin a cat and to carry out works in, over, under or near a main river requires a permit from NRW.
I crossed this bridge hundreds of times as a junior, wearing the black and white with pride. The clacking of our studs on the sheet metal is the soundtrack of my childhood. A fair few visiting teams found themselves exhausted by the journey over to the 1st team pitch before the match had even started! Sort this please, Clydach has improved in many ways in the last decade. Canal/Riverside improvement would be massive for the lower Swansea Valley.