At present work on the Central Lower Promenade in Whitley Bay has stopped and will not continue again for some months.
This allows North Tyneside Council time to rethink its plans for the area, which – as was proved by the 3,000 signatures against the proposals which were gathered in a couple of weeks this summer – are widely unacceptable to residents.
We have asked the council to reconsider its plan to replace valued public space in the seafront area of the town centre with an inaccessible grass slope, suggesting, instead, that the sea wall should be strengthened and the promenade, as it now stands, restored.
This would leave the area available for immediate use as a public space, whilst allowing possibilities for future development to remain open.
The council tells us that a grass slope is “the only affordable option”.
We have asked the advice of experienced structural engineers, and they query this statement.
We understand that a grass bank would involve not only the construction of an elaborate framework with lightweight filling, but would involve the re-siting of the sea wall further out onto the beach in order to make an acceptable gradient possible, while retaining the present width of the upper promenade.
There is also the question of how this restored upper promenade would be adequately supported.
We are proposing the simpler option of maintaining the full width of the lower promenade, now that the retail units have been removed, below a narrower upper prom, which would still be some four to five yards wide, together with a like-for-like replacement of the balustrade and improved access.
The engineers we have consulted agree with us that this would cost far less than the grass bank option.
They also suggest that one or two retail units and much-needed shelters could be constructed on the restored lower prom without exceeding the weight limit advised by the most recent coal-mining report.
We feel it is unfair of the council to expect us to take its own assessment of the comparative cost of these two proposals as gospel when highly experienced professionals are reaching a very different conclusion.
We are therefore asking for a full breakdown of the costs involved for each option, which the officers involved must surely have ascertained in some detail before deciding on a grass bank.
If Whitley Bay is to lose a central feature of its traditional seaside infrastructure, residents deserve to be given proof, in black and white, that there is no alternative.
Assurances from council officers without figures to back them up are not sufficient.
Gillian Swanson and Pamela Hood