Is the tide turning on causeway rescues?

The tide comes in over the causeway at Holy Island.
The tide comes in over the causeway at Holy Island.

CARS stranded four-feet-deep in water on the Holy Island causeway and the costly rescues that follow could soon be a thing of the past.

Plans are now under way for interactive signs that will inform visitors of the tide timetables and when the causeway is impassable.

Police sergeant Neville Wharrier with the electronic farmwatch sign on the A697.

Police sergeant Neville Wharrier with the electronic farmwatch sign on the A697.

A trial using variable message signs, similar to those used for the Northumbria Police Farm Watch campaign, will take place at Easter.

The scheme was discussed at last Friday’s meeting of a working group, which was set up after last August’s public meeting on the island, held in response to 15 people being rescued from the causeway in the first half of last year.

Northumberland County Council, the parish council and emergency groups have all been involved. And the trial could be followed by the installation of more complex and interactive signs in the summer.

The Holy Island Partnership, as part of its work on visitor management, will collect information on how successful the signs are. Its development officer, David Suggett, said that surveys to gauge visitor experience will also ask for feedback on the signs.

At 13.54hr on Monday 10th October 2011, Humber Coastguard requested the launch of Seahouses Inshore Lifeboat, to go to the assistance of a male and female, who had attempted to cross the Holy Island Causeway, contrary to the clearly displayed warning signs. Both had made their way to the refuge box (a hut on stilts on the causeway), after abandoning their abandoned Mercedes estate car with the tide rising around it.

At 13.54hr on Monday 10th October 2011, Humber Coastguard requested the launch of Seahouses Inshore Lifeboat, to go to the assistance of a male and female, who had attempted to cross the Holy Island Causeway, contrary to the clearly displayed warning signs. Both had made their way to the refuge box (a hut on stilts on the causeway), after abandoning their abandoned Mercedes estate car with the tide rising around it.

“People are getting trapped and we want to try to significantly reduce the rescues and also make people more aware of the signs that are there,” he said.

Mike Scott, head of strategic transport at the county council, said: “This will be a forerunner to more complex and interactive variable message signs, which we hope to install during the summer if funding can be found.

“We are working with variable message sign manufacturers to design intelligent signs that advise motorists of tide times and whether/when the causeway is shut.

“These will need to be wind/solar-powered and will be located at the pedestrian entry/exit to the Holy Island car park, and as you approach the causeway from Beal – the latter will light up as motorists approach.”

Tide timetables on the island and at other locations across the county will be redesigned so that they are clearer by using red and green colour-coding and work is to be done with a technology firm to develop a smartphone application.

Coun Dougie Watkin, who represents Norham and Islandshires, said that he was ‘over the moon’ that progress had been made.

“I actually don’t think it will take that much to sort the situation.

“You will always get an odd person caught out or a car breaking down on the causeway but I think it will take very little to help greatly.”

He was also pleased that the meetings to progress solutions involved the local community as well as the emergency services.

“It’s really a good example of how things should work,” he said.

Simon Bevan, Holy Island Parish Council clerk, said that they were happy with how the county council had reacted to the concerns of the islanders since the meeting last August.

Coun Pat Scott, ward member for Bamburgh, was also pleased at the outcome from Friday’s ‘very positive meeting’.

“All the measures are worth trying and they are all very positive,” she said.

And those involved in the resuces are also backing the plans.

Ryan Douglas, station officer at Holy Island Coastguard, said: “The Coastguard will support any measures that will help to stop or reduce the amount of tourists that become trapped on Holy Island Causeway.”

“This year we have already seen a reduction in the amount of causeway strandings, by this time last year we had four cars trapped on the causeway. This year, up until now we have had no strandings.”