COUNCILLORS are split on the best way to ensure public safety, after a panel of new glass balustrade on Lyme Regis seafront smashed, with shattered glass falling onto a family below.
The flat roof area above SWIM, the Antiques & Craft Centre and the Amusement Arcade was completely resurfaced last year costing £600,000 – the council’s most expensive capital project since the renovation of the seafront shelters.
The work was considered essential to prevent water from leaking into the council-owned commercial buildings below.
The project also included the installation of balustrade made from strengthened glass along the edge of the wall, but it was only in place for a few months before one of the panels was smashed.
The incident occurred in October when a member of the town council’s gardening staff was mowing grass in Lister Gardens and a small stone was thrown up by the mower and hit the glass, with a small amount of shattered glass falling onto a family outside the Amusement Arcade below.
An investigation into the specification of the glass balustrade was launched and the council was told that the toughened glass panels were of a suitable specification for the location, but in this instance the panel had not behaved as expected.
No remedial action for the glass balustrade was recommended by the contractor or architect.
In addition, the council staff member was found to be operating in line with the risk assessment for lawn mowing. However, it was suggested that a barrier netting could be used to cover the glass balustrade when mowing in future.
At their virtual meeting this week, councillors started discussing ways in which they could ensure this incident was not repeated.
The Mayor of Lyme Regis, Cllr Brian Larcombe, suggested a beech hedge or fence no higher than a metre could be introduced at the bottom of the Lister Gardens bank to prevent objects such as stones being thrown up again while mowing.
He also suggested that this would deter cyclists, skatebaorders and those playing ball games from using the flat roof area, which he said was a safety concern as they could cause further damage to the balustrade or result in items falling from the roof onto the seafront below.
However, his suggestions were met with strong objections from some members of the council.
Cllr Michaela Ellis said it was always intended for the area to act as an amphitheatre for events and that planting or a fence would ruin the open nature of the area.
She suggested that signs could be installed to deter the public from using the area for activities such as cycling and skateboarding.
The council’s operations manager Matt Adamson Drage said the outside workforce were also opposed to the idea, as it would require additional maintenance.
Cllr Cheryl Reynolds said that the roots of the hedging may also cause issues with the new roof surface.
Flat roof area is ‘open to abuse’
However, Cllr Larcombe argued that a fence or beech hedge would be low maintenance and would not affect events, as it would be at a low height.
“I have seen kids on BMX bikes coming down that slope onto the roof, skateboards coming down there, all sorts. We need to de-mark the boundary between the gardens and the roof to make it much safer,” he said.
“It’s open to abuse and no amount of signage is going to make a blind bit of difference.”
Cllr Larcombe’s initial proposal for a beech hedge split the vote five to five, with Town Management & Highways Committee chairman John Broom giving the casting vote against.
However, a vote to leave the area as it is also then split the council five to five, with Cllr Broom saying he did agree that something should be installed but he did not think a hedge was the answer, as this would not necessarily stop stones from being thrown up and would require maintenance.
Instead he suggested Cllr Larcombe’s idea of a small fence be put to the vote, but this sparked further argument.
Cllr Ellis said: “You are absolutely going against what the gardens are there for. People sit on the bank and we’ve put glass all along there, all they are going to be looking at is a wooden fence and it will look absolutely awful.
“I think we will have loads of complaints if we put a fence up there.”
Cllr Belinda Bawden said installing the fence would “change the character of the gardens” and it was its open nature which made the area so special.
Cllrs Broom and Larcombe argued that the fence would be less than a metre in height and would not obscure any view or event.
Cllr Larcombe added: “It’s not just about the stones, it’s about the fact we’re seeing skateboards being ridden down the slope onto the roof. If a skateboard hits those glass panels wrong I don’t want to risk having more problems like we’ve just experienced with one stone.
“I don’t want to see skateboards on that roof, I don’t want to see BMX bikes on that roof, I’ve seen football played on there. We cannot afford to let that happen. We have to show the public it’s no-go area for these types of things.”
Cllr Reynolds pointed out that skateboarders, cyclists or footballers were not banned from the flat roof area, with council officer Adrianne Mullins confirming there were no by-laws preventing these activities from taking place.
Cllr Ellis accused Cllr Larcombe of not wanting “any children in this area doing anything they might enjoy”.
The mayor strongly refuted her claims, saying he had been a supporter of many projects for young people in the town. He asked Cllr Ellis to retract her comments but she refused.
It was eventually agreed not to take a vote on the proposed fence, but instead to ask officers to produce a full management plan on how best to use, manage and protect the flat roof area.