LIFE-SAVERS remain stuck in the middle of a dispute over plans to build a new Coastguard station on the north Northumberland shore, because landowners and a utility company are still deadlocked over compensation payments.
Plans for the radically upgraded base at Windyside Hill, near Craster, were approved by the county council in 2010, when a plot of land was gifted by Lord Howic to the volunteer-run rescue service.
Set to be called Howick Coastguard Rescue Station, it would drastically improve the efficiency of emergency cover for the sector, by replacing the existing facilities at Craster and Boulmer, which are no longer fit-for-purpose and don’t even have basic amenities such as toilets or changing areas.
Crews also currently have to race between stations to gather equipment – as neither is big enough to store everything required – before heading out on searches or rescues, wasting valuable time and potentially leaving lives at risk.
But as reported in the Gazette on December 22, a dispute had arisen between Northern Powergrid – formerly NEDL – and neighbouring tenants, represented by land agent George F White, over compensation levels for the disruption caused by the proposed laying of underground supply cables.
Bosses at the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) drew a deadline of December 31 in the sand, warning that unless a settlement was reached by that date, funding for the project would be reallocated to other schemes in the coming financial year.
A revised offer was made by Northern Powergrid, but on Tuesday, Mr White said it ‘fell a long way short’ of what tenants were entitled to.
As of yesterday, the utility company said it was still negotiating and hoped to reach an amicable solution.
A spokesman said: “We have put forward a revised offer to the landowner’s agent regarding compensation and are awaiting a formal response.”
Mr White said: “My clients are very keen to see this project come to fruition for the benefit of the entire community. It is the amount of work and level of disruption that is unclear, but certainly they are receptive to it and negotiations are continuing.”
Fred Caygill, on behalf the MCA said: “The MCA would certainly endeavour to bring the project to a successful conclusion if the land agents and Northern Powergrid can reach an agreement.”
The new station would occupy what is currently land used by Craster Rovers Football Club, whose pitch and changing rooms would be moved to an adjacent location.
It would comprise a single-storey structure with accommodation, including a training room, kitchen, shower, toilet and store, with a parking bay outside. There would be two large garage doors on the north-western elevation, while the pedestrian entrance would be on the opposite eastern side of the block.
For the majority of the year, the station would remain locked and closed, but in the event of a maritime incident, the premises would be opened to obtain rescue equipment and an emergency vehicle or even boat.
The design brief for the station, drawn up during the planning application, states: “To that extent, it needs to be available and capable of being used 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in the event of an incident.
“The normal activities for MCA members of staff operating from a Coastguard Rescue Station are such that the individual has to be capable of undertaking physically demanding activities, which include climbing down cliffs, covering uneven terrain and the ability to support colleagues.
“HM Coastguard is an emergency service and has a statutory obligation to be at the site of a reported incident within a designated time limit.”