Missing or damaged fencing on the causeway between The Basins is to be repaired by Wellington town council – despite some councillors being worried about potential legal liabilities as the council doesn’t itself own the land. After a fierce debate it took a casting vote from Mayor Gary James to settle the issue in favour of taking a risk in favour of public safety.
“The predominant issue here is public safety. It’s not acceptable to do nothing,” said Cllr James after a 6-6 tied vote on whether to go ahead with repairs irrespective.
“The council will be taking a risk, although I am reassured by the letter from the Crown Estate saying they are unlikely to act against us, but we’re taking a greater risk if we don’t do something,” said Cllr Andy Govier. The council had heard about the risks to pedestrians and cyclists as cars use the narrow causeway to access council allotments.
However, Cllr Ben Shepherd, himself a solicitor, urged caution on the council. “ I don’t think we should be getting ahead of the legal process of acquiring the land from the Crown Estate,” he said. “If someone falls in and drowns we could be liable for hundreds of thousands of pounds.”
Cllr Marcus Barr put an opposite point of view.” I think we just need to put our necks on the block and get it done,” he said. “We can’t be surprised if the public get disillusioned with the council if we keep dithering.”
Town clerk Greg Dyke has heard from the Crown Estate that they are willing to sell the causeway and other adjacent land for a sum not less than £5,000 plus legal costs of not less than £2,500. However, the plans showing ownership of various plots are highly confused and have been passed on for legal clarification.
“If the plans I’ve seen are anything to go by we could end up owning half of Wellington,” joked Cllr Govier. “But we should go ahead and try to bring the land immediately around The Basins into public ownership.” The council voted unanimously to pursue the idea of a purchase from the Crown Estate once clear boundaries have been established.
In the meantime, the fencing along the causeway will be replaced at a cost of just under £2,500.