Causeway barriers ‘are not the answer’

ISLANDERS whose tidal causeway has been blighted by careless motorists have come out in force against suggestions that a barrier is needed to stop people ignoring the safe crossing times.

Most of Holy Island’s permanent residents have signed a 148-name petition, backed by holiday-home owners, delivery drivers and visitors, objecting to any moves to install traffic controls on the road which links their community to the mainland at Beal.

So far this year, there have been 18 rescues on the causeway, which have placed demands on the RNLI station at Seahouses and also the RAF Boulmer Sea King helicopter.

The most recent took place last week, when an elderly couple tried to navigate the road two hours after the last safe crossing time.

They were taken to safety by the island’s Coastguard team as the RAF chopper hovered above.

Northumberland County Council has now agreed to establish a working group, which will enable councillors, officers and community representatives to discuss any issues which arise and regularly report back to the North Area Committee.

Speaking at the committee on Monday night, parish council clerk Simon Bevan said any potential solutions should discount the introduction of a barrier, which he said could endanger the lives of islanders.

“Barriers and traffic lights would prevent access to islanders, emergency services, couriers, workmen and delivery men who understand the tides and know when it is safe to cross – even if there is water on the road,” he said. “The main duty of care is to the Holy Island residents for 365 days a year, rather than to reckless drivers.

“We hope we can be part of any causeway working group set up to resolve this problem.”

Mr Bevan related one incident in which the Coastguard had ferried a seriously-ill resident across the causeway, despite it being under two feet of water.

“Because the tide was high, the ambulance was unable to cross and neither the helicopters nor the inshore lifeboat were available,” he said. “The Holy Island Coastguard team assisted the patient while another resident drove to the causeway to assess the height of the tide and risk.

“The team then took the patient and drove through the water, which was between two and three feet deep, to the waiting ambulance. This would not have been possible if barriers had been in place and the patient would probably have died.”

Coun Isabel Hunter agreed that locals knew the tides well, commenting: “It would be a very rare occasion that an islander got stuck on the causeway.”

However, Coun Richard Dodd said the signs warning motorists about the tide times ‘were poor’ and that tourists – particularly foreign ones – may not notice their significance.

Local councillor Dougie Watkin added that building a bridge to the island carried a price-tag of £60million, according to costings he had obtained.