BALUSTRADES: The metal railings need maintenance

While agreeing with Mr A M Johnson (News Guardian, August 13) that Whitley Bay’s balustrades are of no historical interest on a national level, they are an integral part of our town’s traditional image and, along with Grant’s Clock, the Rex Hotel and the Dome, a key feature of the central seafront area.

Whether they are more attractive than metal railings is a matter of opinion, though the views of thousands of residents and visitors who have signed a petition to retain them certainly shows which way popular opinion tends.

However, Mr Johnson’s statement that the miles of metal railings along our coastline are “all fit for purpose” cries out to be challenged.

Unlike the low-maintenance balustrade, still perfectly sound as long as it remains in situ, and possibly even if it were to be removed and replaced with due care, railings require regular re-painting to remain both safe and attractive. In Whitley Bay, few of them pass this test.

Those on the South Promenade recently had to be replaced almost entirely after being left to winter storms, and a hazard which even North Tyneside Council could no longer ignore. Elsewhere, most of them are rusty and unsightly, staining the concrete beneath, and on the headland promenade some have disintegrated completely.

Mr Johnson also appears to be misinformed as to the condition of the promenade. He says that it is ‘sagging’. This is not the case. It is true that the upper level is not fit to bear motor traffic. However, this is not the result of deterioration, but the fault of the original design. The problem has long been recognised and barriers put in place to prevent vehicle incursion.

It is clear to us, after petitioning on the streets, that an overwhelming majority of residents and visitors wish to retain both the lower promenade and its units, and the balustrade on the upper level, and after studying the facts, it is equally clear that there are no legitimate grounds for demolition.

Boreholes taken in April showed no evidence of coal-mining activity under the prom and stated that it was well able to bear its present load or the equivalent. This means that it could be retained, complete with units, without any need for expensive groundwork, and that this would be cheaper than the ‘preferred option’ of an intricately constructed grass bank.

If those who are now questioning the council’s plans “failed to speak up at the time of planning and consultation”, it was because those plans were not shared with the public until more acceptable options had been eliminated. In fact, realisation of our imminent loss did not dawn until early this year. The reaction, as awareness continues to spread, is shock, disbelief and anger.

The ‘vision’ for Whitley Bay appears to be concentrated in and to the north of the Dome, by-passing the entire stretch of coast between Cullercoats and Watts slope: the very heart of the town, and the most accessible to families travelling on the Metro. Yes, we need the Dome to be profitably occupied, and welcome subsidiary development along the northern promenade.

What we don’t understand is why this should rule out hope of restored vitality in the town centre, when, to our knowledge, plenty of local businesses would jump at the opportunity to trade there.

Gillian Swanson

Whitley Bay