MORE than 1,500 people have signed a petition against the permanent closure of the north and south piers at Lydney Harbour and are demanding the removal of “unsightly” metal fencing as soon as possible. 

At the end of July, the Harbour Master at Lydney David Frodin announced via social media that the piers were now closed to the public “for safety reasons”, and that it was the Environment Agency’s intention to make this permanent policy.

Green metal fencing has been erected to enforce the closure, which many feel is completely at odds with the £2 million makeover the harbour received recently, which included landscaping, an art trail and new cafe and visitor centre.

Local resident Dan Marfell launched a petition against the closure on Sunday (August 6), which nearly 1,000 people signed in 24 hours, while hundreds of locals took to social media to express their opposition to the move over the weekend. 

The Harbour Master then commented on his original Facebook post in response to some of the comments, saying the current green fencing would be in place while ongoing engineering works are carried out, and was “a temporary solution while a permanent solution is determined".

The original post from the Harbour Master announcing the closure was subsequently deleted. 

But despite strong pushback, the Environment Agency (EA), which owns the harbour, says it cannot guarantee that the piers will not be permanently closed long term.

On a wet and windy morning yesterday (Tuesday, August 8), dozens of locals headed to the harbour to hear clarification from EA. 

But Place Manager for Gloucestershire Martin Quine didn’t have the best of news for all concerned.

He said although the current fence was put in place because of engineering works happening on the piers, he could not guarantee a permanent fence would not be installed to replace it.

He said a new risk assessment from EA, taking into account increased footfall there since the installation of the cafe and other improvements, had identified the piers as a safety risk to the public, and that they’d been recommended to take action. 

He said the temporary fence would be in place until at least the end of the year, with long term solutions being considered in the meantime. 

He said feedback from all who use the harbour, including sailors, fisherman and members of the public, is welcomed and would be taken into account. 

“In terms of what happens next we’re happy to talk, but what I can’t do today is tell you there won’t be a solution which means that fences are still in place, and it would be wrong of me to do that,” he told locals. 

But many argued the risk assessment was flawed, because the harbour is no different from others around the country where no fencing is in place, such as in Bristol, or cliffs around the entire UK coastline.

Many also said they were unaware of any fatalities or major accidents having occurred at the piers in the modern era, to which Mr Quine responded: “We’ve been asked a lot about fatalities and how many people have gone over the edge, but whatever the eventual decision is is not about fatalities, it’s about the risk”.

One harbour user (pictured below) who came to hear from EA also questioned the legality of the move, saying he was particularly concerned about the harbour as an ancient monument, changes to which are protected by law. 

A local resident and sailor is investigating the legality of erecting a permanent fence on the piers, as the harbour is a scheduled ancient monument
A local resident and sailor is investigating the legality of erecting a permanent fence on the piers, as the harbour is a scheduled ancient monument (Tindle)

Among those in attendance were former presenter of BBC’s ‘Coast’, Professor Mark Horton, who has kept his yacht at the harbour for 10 years, and three district councillors representing the Forest of Dean Green Party, Jackie Dale (Pillowell), Beth Llewelyn (Bream) and Andrew McDermid (Lydney).

Professor Horton commented: “Apart from the aesthetic side to it, which I’m really worried about, the main issue is if that fence is permanent, it impedes the safe operation of the harbour. 

“This (the Severn) is the most dangerous waterway in the world, the approach to Lydney Harbour is probably the most treacherous. For people who haven’t done it, it’s absolutely critical there’s proper free access to the pier for anyone who comes into distress. Fencing it off is an accident waiting to happen”. 

He also said he was concerned work to the harbour as a scheduled ancient monument could be considered a criminal act, if they do not have the consent of the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

The Green councillors also questioned the necessity of the move, saying the harbour is “no different” to any other stretch of UK coastline. 

District councillor for Lydney Andrew McDermid described the fencing as an unsightly addition to the picturesque landscape, while Cllr Beth Lleweyn bemoaned the lack of public consultation and said councillors had been told “nothing at all”.

Cllr Jackie Dale said: “I’ve lived in Cornwall for some of my life, it just seems a strange situation that we’ve got a harbour here that’s being fenced off, whereas most harbours and cliff sides around our beautiful coast aren’t like that. 

“They’re left to be wild, we’re sensible and we make sure our children and animals are looked after so that they actually don’t fall in. 

“For us it’s not a council stance that we’re here, we’re here as the Green Party to find out and understand what is actually happening.” 

The petition written by Dan Marfell reads: “This fencing is not only an unsightly blot on the beautiful views at the Harbour, it restricts access for people wanting to enjoy the serene and relaxing views that are now only visible behind a gated fence.

“If safety is a concern, fencing should be placed in the areas of danger i.e at the water’s edge. For other safety aspects such as when the harbour is manoeuvring boats and other equipment, a temporary barrier could be put into place to improve site safety.

“I feel as someone that spent many summer afternoons at the harbour growing up, the views, the fresh air and the wide open space which has always been available at the harbour, have now been revoked in favour of an unsightly metal fence.

“This fencing should be removed, and access is given back to visitors that enjoy the unbroken views that once were a part of the Lydney Harbour. 

“This should be returned back to allow people access to the area, with more subtle measures put into place.” 

He added that by only allowing people to view the area through the fence, the Environment Agency was treating the people of Lydney “like morons”.

He also said he would look at how many accidents had actually occurred at the piers, and would seek an explanation as to how the fencing would make the harbour significantly safer.

Overall, the petition calls for the removal of the “ugly” fences and a more sympathetic approach to safety improvements for harbour operations. 

To read and sign the petition, click here.