TRADERS in the Richmond area are continuing to suffer after the collapse of the town's Mercury Bridge.

Business owners say they are losing trade as a result of extensive damage caused to the 19th Century landmark by recent flooding.

The chairman of the Richmond Business and Tourism Association, Mike Nicholls, said the economic impact of the bridge's closure was being felt throughout the town and the surrounding area.

"We are concerned about the effect it is having on trade. I fear that it is affecting trade in the town because people aren't coming and going as normal. If they're not here, they can't buy."

North Yorkshire County Council officials have warned that it could take up to six months and cost £500,000 to rebuild the bridge on the A6136 Richmond to Catterick road.

But Dr Nicholls said such a timescale may prove to be optimistic.

"We can only encourage them and hope they can do it in that time. We wish them well, but having seen it, I fear it may take a lot longer than six months."

The county council's head of environmental management, Mike Masterman, said members of the authority's environmental services committee would be discussing the issue today.

"We are asking to waive standing orders and pick up a contractor a lot quicker than we normally do."

Meanwhile, Richmond Swimming Pool reopened yesterday morning after being closed for almost a week as a result of the bridge damage.

The pool was forced to close last Wednesday when a gas mains carried across the bridge had to be shut off, leaving it with no heated water.

Richmondshire Leisure manager, Richard Lewis, said: "We will be getting in touch with all our local schools to let them know we are open again.

"The same message needs to go out to members of the public, who can also use all our normal facilities.

"Some further minor disruption to our power supply is possible. However, we will do all we can to keep the pool open throughout this difficult period."