The RNLI has announced plans to apply for planning permission to build a new, permanent lifeboat station at Madeira Cove. The charity has been working closely with North Somerset Council (NSC) on initial proposals and will begin work on a planning application to be submitted later this year.
The RNLI has been seeking a permanent site from which to carry out its lifeboat service in Weston-super-Mare for a number of years. Access to its former lifeboat house on Birnbeck Island has become progressively more unsafe over the last 15 years, culminating in the operation being terminated in 2014 due to the deteriorating condition of Birnbeck Pier.
The location on the Birnbeck Island had served the RNLI well for 132 years and the charity had maintained a safe access for its crew long after the pier was closed to public access. This position was maintained in the hope that the pier would finally be refurbished to a standard that would allow the RNLI to modernise its facilities and retain its presence on the island, which offers good operating conditions for the lifeboats.
However it has become increasingly apparent after several changes in ownership and a number of schemes that have come to nothing that there is little possibility of any practical scheme being implemented in the foreseeable future.
Throughout this time the RNLI has been actively seeking an alternative site in Weston-super-Mare to ensure the future of the lifeboat service in the Bristol Channel and the beaches and coastline adjacent to the town. The coastal conditions, local geography and challenging tidal range of the Bristol Channel mean that there are few suitable locations available that have appropriate landward and seaward access.
The RNLI now believes that following a local initiative and with the cooperation and assistance of North Somerset Council (NSC), a potential long-term solution has been identified whereby the two lifeboats could be housed, along with modern crew facilities, at Madeira Cove. The site was home to the Cove Pavilion Theatre until 1983 and currently features the Steep Holm sculpture and some memorial seating in an area renovated by local Leo and Lions clubs in 2013.
The new lifeboat station would make use of the existing slipway in Knightstone Harbour, which is currently being used for the smaller D class inshore lifeboat (ILB), with consideration for a new launching site for the larger Atlantic class inshore lifeboat being created by constructing a slipway on the other side of Madeira Cove, at Anchor Head, from where the lifeboat would be able launch into the same deep water as previously from the Birnbeck Island slipway.
Both the sites are on land owned by NSC and the project can only proceed with the benefit of planning consent and land acquisition. Initial discussions with the Council have indicated that there are no overriding planning policy or property obstacles to the scheme. The RNLI has, therefore, decided to proceed with the preparation of a planning application to be submitted later this year. The proposals will be developed in consultation with NSC and other local interested parties.
Howard Richings, Head of Estates Capital Projects for the RNLI says;
‘I have been involved for over 15 years in seeking a permanent solution for the Weston-super-Mare lifeboats for which there have been a number of false starts and dashed hopes relating to the refurbishment of Birnbeck Pier and I know that many people still hope to see the pier restored.
The RNLI’s responsibility is to provide modern, safe facilities for our volunteer crews and we have reached the limits of how long we can wait for such a scheme. The Madeira Cove proposal is the first really practical alternative location that has come up. To obtain planning consent in such a sensitive location we recognise that the design will have to be sympathetic with the site and will have to incorporate appropriate landscaping. I believe that the RNLI has demonstrated in other locations such as The Lizard, Exmouth, Swanage and Portishead that it can rise to such challenges in seeking solutions to saving lives at sea, and we look forward to working with everyone involved in taking this positive step forward.’
Charlotte Conroy, Lifeboat Operations Manager, Weston-super-Mare says,
‘To have a permanent station at this location would be a great step forward for our lifesaving service in the town in so many respects. For many years now the volunteer lifeboat crew have operated in extraordinarily challenging circumstances; a lifeboat station on the Madeira Cove site would improve our lifesaving capability in the town considerably, and also importantly allow far more interaction with the public. This is wonderful news and could prove to be an enormous benefit to the town’