RESIDENTS and traders in a busy town which was cut in two when a central bridge was suddenly closed were delighted to hear it was expected to reopen today.

The historic Cocker Bridge, which links Main Street and Market Place, was closed on Saturday when cracks were spotted on the surface.

Diversions were put in place and the county council moved in swiftly to assess the damage. Residents and those wanting to access the town’s community hospital, secondary school and the many shops and businesses in Market Place faced a detour via the A66 and Embleton. There was much anxiety regarding how long the historic bridge would be closed.

Inspections, which included a dive team, took place on Monday.

A council spokesman said yesterday afternoon: "Following assessment yesterday, the tree wedged against the bridge was removed earlier today and the damaged carriageway surfacing on the bridge has now been excavated, with a base course laid.

"Final patching works will be carried out tomorrow (Thursday 25 November) morning. We are expecting that the bridge will be reopened tomorrow afternoon to both vehicles and pedestrians. We thank the local community for their patience during this time."

Andy Walsh owns The Coffee Kitchen Bakery in Market Place. "It's a fantastic relief.

"It's great that it's opened so quickly. People were concerned it could have gone on and on and had a great impact on the town," he said.

Chamber of Trade chairman Andrew Marshall is delighted that it will be open in time for tonight's late-night shopping Spirit of Christmas event.

"It's great, we can get on with all the Christmas trading," he said. "It happened on Saturday as the town was preparing for the lights switch on the following day. The county council responded really quickly and has been great at keeping us regularly updated."

Deputy mayor Andy Semple said: "This is a vital bridge and when this sort of thing happens it goes to show how vulnerable we can be.

"It's been difficult for people wanting to access the hospital and school and everywhere else. I'm absolutely delighted it's open."

Repair work is also being carried out on a nearby flood wall in the grounds of the former police station.

Matt Crump, Cumbria’s operations manager for the Environment Agency, said the flood risk has not increased after damage was caused to an embankment below it.