A DECISION to fence off an historic riverside right of way has been labelled “health and safety gone mad”.
The Port of Tyne erected a 6ft tall fence at the bottom of Readhead’s Landing, off Commercial Road in South Shields, as a security measure.
But the move has angered protesters, who have been fighting for more than a year to retain the landing for public use.
The port is pushing ahead with a £180m extension of its Riverside Quay, which involves filling in the remaining front section of Tyne Dock.
The work is required to provide additional berthing for ships, as part of a massive renewable energy expansion plan, which would create hundreds of jobs.
The plans require the closure of the landing, the town’s only remaining direct public access to the river.
One of the campaigners fighting to protect it, Kevin Flett, has accused port bosses of being “sneaky”.
He said: “I don’t buy the safety argument as the reason given for putting up the fencing. It’s health and safety gone mad. It’s basically just fencing off water. The safety danger is being overplayed in my opinion.
“If they are doing this here, they might as well fence off the Marine Park or the beach. There’s as much, if not more, danger there. Where do you draw the line?
“There was a large fire in a former steel fabrication building just down from the landing about six months ago, and that building is still accessible. That’s much more of a safety hazard than the landing.”
After the fencing plan was announced last week, campaigners gathered for the symbolic “launch” of a final vessel – an inflatable boat.
Now Mr Flett has called on the port to be “more imaginative” in creating a safety barrier at the riverside.
He said: “Safety should be considered, obviously. But rather than just putting up a fence, they could place artistic sculptures reflecting the industrial and shipbuilding past of the area. That would screen the area just as effectively.
“And why is the fence so tall? All the other fencing along the river is about three feet high. We could have perhaps accepted that, but this is just an over-reaction.”
Protesters have only a few days now to object to the port’s plan to remove the area’s status as a right of way.
Mr Flett said: “We had originally planned not to object to that application, because we had been told it would not have been enforced until work on the extension started.
“But because we think the port has been pretty sneaky over the fence, we will be attempting to block that application now.”
Despite the fence fall-out, Mr Flett said the Readhead’s Landing support group was eager to retain an ongoing dialogue with port bosses – who have pledged to create an alternative public access point to the river at a later stage.
A spokesman for the Port of Tyne said: “Safety is our No1 priority. Due to the heightened awareness of this location, school holidays, good weather, and the obvious risks that open water presents, we were advised by Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service that we should prevent public access to the river at this point.
“We have erected a fence at the high water mark, at an appropriate height to prevent unauthorised access.
“This is in an industrial area and is not the same as a designated public space where people can safely enjoy river or beach access and where there are appropriate safety measures in place.”
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