Lack of safety railings on Whitby’s east pier could see someone killed

East pier
East pier

I feel morally obliged to draw attention to a situation on Whitby’s East Pier, which I am convinced will eventually result in someone being either seriously injured or even killed.

These are the relevant facts:

Damage to Whitby's East pier. Pictures by Paul Atkinson.

Damage to Whitby's East pier. Pictures by Paul Atkinson.

1) The sides of the East Pier are practically vertical. In parts the deck of the pier is in excess of 10 metres above the adjoining beach.

2) There is currently no hand railing around the perimeter of the East Pier, apart from a small stretch of light gauge railing along the pier’s western edge.

3) There are currently no ladders whatsoever on the northern seaward side of the East Pier.

4) The existing stone deck and concrete patching provides a host of potential trip hazards. Furthermore, some parts of the edge of the deck are very irregular.

I am aware that Scarborough Borough Council have now erected signs on the East Pier advising about ‘slippery and uneven surfaces’ and warning of possible ‘slips and trips’.

They also point out the fact that the edges of the pier are ‘unprotected’.

However, a slip or a trip is an involuntary occurrence that could cause a person to fall over the unprotected edge of the pier.

The same notice also emphasises the need for ‘close supervision of children’.

But the nightmare scenario will always remain of a responsible parent losing control, even for a split second, of an excited child.

Similarly, anybody who momentarily loses concentration or leans over the edge to obtain a better view could be in danger.

It is also not difficult to appreciate the possible repercussions of boisterous incidents might have for both the participants and any innocent bystanders. In the absence of a handrail there is simply nothing to protect the public from serious harm.

A cautionary notice makes people aware of the danger around them - and is to be applauded. But it is no substitute for physical life-saving preventative measures such as handrails and ladders.

5) When the tide is out, anybody falling from the East Pier will crash onto either the projecting steel sheet pile and concrete scour protection, or the stone boulders, or the hard mudstone rock outcrop.

6) When the tide is in, anybody falling into the water on the seaward side of the East Pier is unlikely to survive, even if they retain consciousness.

This stretch of water is particularly turbulent, due to the waves diverted between the East Pier extension and the bull nose of the East Pier merging with the incoming tide. Survivors would not be able to climb out because there are no ladders available at that location. The two lifebuoys, especially in the hands of amateurs, do not inspire confidence.

7) The 2009 Royal Haskoning report made the following comment in respect of the East Pier: ‘The pier has no guard rail around the pier edge despite drops of up to 8m, with the exception of the last 80m on the seaward side. Whilst the pier is less popular with the public, the risk of falls by the public, operational and maintenance staff remains due to the exposed nature of the piers, warn surfacing and trips hazards.’

Why have Scarborough Borough Council ignored this warning for the past 10 years?

8) As somebody who regularly enjoys a walk along both of the Whitby piers, I have noticed that the East Pier has become increasingly popular in recent years.

So, once the long-awaited and much-missed footbridge between the East Pier and its extension is reintroduced over the winter months, then the number of people using this pier will invariably increase quite dramatically.

9) I have exchanged a number of emails with Scarborough Borough Council’s Major Projects Portfolio Holder, Cllr Cockerill. The outcome might be summarised as follows:

• He does not dispute the dangers that I have outlined.

• He advises that Scarborough Borough Council consider the provision of handrails on the East Pier was ‘not felt to be practical.’ I have, in response, stated out that it is a straightforward installation, and that circa 400 metres of suitable surplus hand railing will be available from the Church Street Flood Alleviation Scheme. The total perimeter of the East Pier is approximately 600 metres.

• Cllr Cockerill says Scarborough Borough Council also believes that ‘it might not be possible to obtain the necessary listed consent.’ I am confident that no responsible planning committee would reject a Scarborough Borough Council application which explained the health and safety issues.

• Finally, Cllr Cockerill has made it very clear ‘that there are no plans to erect retail railings on the East Pier.’

• I closed by stating that ‘this is in my view is wrong, illogical and totally unacceptable.’

10) Last November I emailed all the Scarborough Borough Council councillors urging them to press vigorously for the immediate installation of hand railing and external ladders on the East Pier.

I also copied the email to the duty holder and the designated person under the SBC Safety Management System. Seven councillors replied, six appreciated or shared my concerns, and two of them personally undertook to take the matter up with relevant members of the cabinet and the appropriate executive officers.

11) However, to date, I am unaware of any Scarborough Borough Council commitment to install the hand railing and the ladders. Will it take a tragedy to belatedly extract their head from the sand and do the right thing?

Vin McLaughlan

Egton Bridge